The Top 15 Movies I Reviewed in 2017!

List by Derrick Carter

Throughout the course of 2017, I posted 206 movie reviews on this blog. Though about a quarter of those were rewatches (covering the SAW and CHILD’S PLAY franchises before their latest installments, and also paying tribute to the passing of genre legend George A. Romero), I managed to catch plenty of fresh new films, forgotten flicks, and classics that I simply hadn’t gotten around to watching. As with last year, 2017’s “Best of” list will cover movies that I watched for the first time in my life. This means that old and new films are on the table, regardless of what year they came out. If a film was new to me and I loved it, then I’m including it with my favorite films that I watched in 2017!

Before I get into my 15 favorite films that I reviewed this year, there are some honorable mentions. I had previously seen THE EXORCIST, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, THE THING, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and ALIENS before this year. Otherwise, they would be on this list. As far as first-time watches, I truly enjoyed the groundbreaking drama MOONLIGHT and adored the 80s throwback STRANGER THINGS. Concerning new horror films, THE EYES OF MY MOTHER seriously disturbed me, THE VOID was a phenomenal Lovecraftian nightmare, and THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS was one hell of a zombie film! WONDER WOMAN also wound up as my second-favorite superhero film of 2017. As for indie thrillers, WIND RIVER was a gripping ride and GOOD TIME was a neon-lit throwback to Martin Scorsese’s early work.

Now, without further ado, onto my top 15 favorite films that I reviewed during 2017…

15. MY FRIEND DAHMER: Most serial killer films focus on chilling murders of their subjects, but MY FRIEND DAHMER is not like most serial killer films. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, MY FRIEND DAHMER is a chilling drama that chronicles the pre-murderous life of Jeffrey Dahmer and examines him as a high school weirdo. By somewhat “humanizing” this psycho, the film doesn’t attempt to elicit sympathy towards its titular cannibal killer and instead shines a light on the fact that people we went to high school might very well turn into monsters seen in news headlines. Though there isn’t a single (human) murder to be found, MY FRIEND DAHMER joins the ranks among the best films about real-life serial killers (MONSTER, ZODIAC, HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, and THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS).

14. FOUR LIONS: The idea of tackling Islamic terrorism through a darkly comic lens might sound completely misguided on paper, but FOUR LIONS is the best comedy that I sat through all year! The film follows four idiotic would-be terrorists as they attempt to execute a devastating attack, but constantly fumble over their own stupidity and reveal themselves to be bumbling morons. In my opinion, painting Islamic terrorists in this ridiculous light strips some of the power away from them in a similar way to what Charlie Chaplin did to Hitler in THE GREAT DICTATOR or what Rogen/Franco did to Kim Jong-Un with THE INTERVIEW. If you’re down for dark comedy and don’t mind totally offensive punchlines, you should give FOUR LIONS a watch in the near future!

13. HARD BOILED: Last year, LADY SNOWBLOOD wound up being one of my favorite movie-going experiences as I saw it in a packed cinema pub screening. This year, that cinema pub moviegoing experience belongs to HARD BOILED. This shoot ’em up actioner is over-the-top to the point of being ridiculous. Ridiculously awesome! Each gun fight plays out like a carefully choreographed dance and the film features one of the most jaw-dropping single take sequences that I’ve ever laid my eyes upon. Though it relies on a few cop movie clichés, it utilizes these in a loving way that makes the familiar material seem fresh. If you’re into action films and you haven’t seen HARD BOILED, then you need to remedy that immediately!

12. T2 TRAINSPOTTING: In all honesty, I didn’t know what exactly to expect from a sequel to TRAINSPOTTING. I love that film and I know that novelist Irvine Welsh wrote a follow-up novel, but I didn’t know how that might translate into a cinematic sequel. Over two decades after its predecessor’s release, T2 TRAINSPOTTING serves as an amazing companion piece to the original. Using the same cast and experimental visual style (albeit through a much more polished lens), TRAINSPOTTING 2 delivers stellar performances and naturally follows the lives of the four ne’er do wells from the previous film. If you loved the first film, then you’ll probably love this one too. For a full experience, it’s best to watch both of them back-to-back in the space of a single night!

11. NORTH BY NORTHWEST: This may be blasphemy for a cinephile, but I actually haven’t seen many Alfred Hitchcock films. I love PSYCHO, THE BIRDS, and DIAL M FOR MURDER, but the rest of his filmography is basically a mystery to my movie-craving eyes. My first viewing of NORTH BY NORTHWEST took place in the best possible environment (a packed movie theater) and I was blown away by how thrilling this film is. This is basically a James Bond film before Bond ever hit the screen. Cary Grant serves as a charismatic leading man who’s on the run for a murder he didn’t commit. Over the space of his death-defying adventure, we gets lots of suspense, action, and unexpected plot twists. I was on the edge of my seat for this entire film and walked away extremely satisfied. If the rest of Hitchcock’s filmography is anywhere near this great, then I’m in for a real treat as I continue to watch his work.

10. I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE: Blending a Coen brothers style of humor with indie thriller sensibilities, I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE might just be the most underseen and underrated film of 2017! This movie won an audience award at Sundance and then went directly to Netflix, where some people talked about for a couple of weeks and then it just kind of seemed to vanish out of the public eye. This is a vigilante thriller that’s believable in how inept real-life wannabe vigilantes might be and frequently dishes out shocking spurts of graphic violence. This might be the best Coen brothers film that the Coen brothers never made and I can’t wait to see what first-time director/writer Macon Blair cooks up next!

9. BABY DRIVER: What can I say? Edgar Wright consistently makes great films. BABY DRIVER is a passion project that Wright had in the works for years. In a similar fashion to how George Miller carefully planned out every scene, shot, and effect in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, Wright constantly lets the viewer know that they’re in the hands of a visionary storyteller. This stylish crime tale about a getaway driver who (ironically enough) wants to get away from his criminal lifestyle is loaded with colorful characters, hilarious humor, and adrenaline-pumping action that’s synced up to one of the best damn soundtracks you’ll hear all year. I gushed over this movie back in June and I am still gushing about it now. If you want a joy ride of pure fun, BABY DRIVER will satisfy your cinematic craving!

8. THE DISASTER ARTIST: Never in a million years did I think that anything to do with Tommy Wiseau’s so-bad-it’s-good THE ROOM would ever wind up on any “Best of” list. Yet, here we are. James Franco lovingly adapts the nonfiction book about the creation of THE ROOM to the big screen in a way that’s not only hilarious, but also genuinely touching. THE DISASTER ARTIST doesn’t take the easy route of being a goofy comedy about a loser who fails so spectacularly that he kind of succeeds. Instead, this film takes a more complicated drama-comedy approach and shows us the more serious side of oddball Tommy Wiseau…and his strange friendship with would-be aspiring actor Greg Sestero. THE DISASTER ARTIST is a moving must-see for ROOM fans and cinephiles who just love great movies in general.

7. BLADE RUNNER 2049: I’m saying it right now, BLADE RUNNER 2049 is one of the best sequels to ever hit the silver screen. Over three decades after its predecessor’s debut, BLADE RUNNER 2049 recaptures the bleak sci-fi/noir spark that made the original into the cult classic that it is today. 2049’s cast all deliver amazing performances across the board, with supporting actors making the biggest impressions in their small minutes of screen time and Ryan Gosling serving as a fascinating new antihero. Besides delivering a complex mystery that unpredictably shifts directions as it goes along, 2049 also has one of the most beautiful romantic subplots in years and it features a literal “one-dimensional” character. For those who were bummed out by this film’s disappointing box office returns, remember that the first BLADE RUNNER was a box office flop and is now considered to be one of the greatest science-fiction films of all time. A similar classic status will undoubtedly follow BLADE RUNNER 2049 in future years!

6. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES: Seven years ago, if you had told me that a PLANET OF THE APES prequel trilogy would be one of the best cinematic trilogies ever, I would have laughed in your face. It turns out that’s exactly the case though. 2014’s DAWN drastically improved upon the minor flaws of 2011’s RISE, but 2017’s WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is stellar storytelling from beginning to end. Themes of revenge, survival, and forgiveness are examined throughout the film’s ever-changing plot. Performance wise, WAR fully shapes out intelligent ape Caesar (played wonderfully by Andy Serkis) as animal protagonist who’s more compelling than most human protagonists in films and also introduces Woody Harrelson as a monstrous villain who we want to see die in the most painful way possible. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES was the best possible way to conclude the APES prequel trilogy and is one of the best summer blockbusters I’ve ever sat through!

5. IRREVERSIBLE: I originally heard about Gaspar Noe’s rape-revenge drama from a podcast in 2008, but hadn’t bothered to give it a look until earlier this year. Though not strictly a horror film by any means, IRREVERSIBLE is a terrifying cinematic experience as events are told backwards. Unlike other linear rape-revenge stories, we see the revenge come first and travel backwards through the moments that eventually lead up to the violent act of justice. As the film plays out in reverse (ironic considering its title), we put pieces of this depressing puzzle together for ourselves and this already tragic event becomes even more tragic with each new revelation. This isn’t a film for the faint-hearted and it’s about as bleak as they come, but IRREVERSIBLE is an uncompromising masterpiece that deserves to be seen by anybody who loves the serious artistic side of cinema!

4. LOGAN: There will never be a better Wolverine than Hugh Jackman. I’m saying that right now. Over a decade has been spent watching Jackman in the role of this weaponized mutant, so LOGAN serves as a suitable final chapter for Jackman’s reluctant do-gooder. The future X-MEN films have a tough act to follow, because LOGAN is a special kind of superhero story. Relationships between the small cast of characters drives the emotional core of this film forward, whilst the R rating finally delivers something that X-MEN fans have wanted to see since 2000: a bad-ass Wolverine slicing and dicing his way through bad guys. This film also has shades of Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD crossed with a comic book story that’s about as unconventional as they come. Now that Disney is in talks to own the X-MEN franchise, we likely won’t see another film like LOGAN coming from this mutant-based series. LOGAN is a one-of-a-kind superhero film and one of the best comic book movies ever made!

3. EYES WIDE SHUT: Stanley Kubrick’s final film is an underrated masterpiece about the way in which people delude themselves into believing that they’re happy…and also there’s a creepy sex cult involved too. The entire film has a dream-like atmosphere as we watch the main character (Tom Cruise) venture through a single night odyssey that explores the sexual possibilities of cheating on his wife. Kubrick masterfully shows the dire consequences that might result from following our instinctual desires, whilst also putting us into the place of Cruise’s character. This is especially true of the ending which offers two distinct possibilities: one of them is easy and comforting…and the other one is ambiguous and dangerous. Whatever you might think of it or how you might interpret it, EYES WIDE SHUT is sure to keep you talking about it long after it’s over.

2. YOUR NAME: Eat your heart out Studio Ghibli! YOUR NAME just might be one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever sat through. This film has gorgeous animation from beginning to end, while also delivering an entrancing tale of emotions and body-swapping. It’s initial set-up sounds like the anime equivalent of FREAKY FRIDAY, but drastically becomes something far more charming and moving as its complex plot moves along. This might be one of the strangest love stories ever put to the screen, but its emotional resonance is undeniable! The characters are all built up to the point where the viewer feels for their struggles and deeply cares about them. This makes the film’s final third into a very suspenseful and gripping ride. Also, the climax is utterly perfect. YOUR NAME is a masterpiece and deserves every bit of praise it has received so far (and will continue to receive)!

1. MOTHER!: Much like my favorite film of 2016 (HIGH-RISE), I know that there will be people who loathe and downright detest MOTHER! Some will hate it for its sheer artsy nightmare-logic style and others will despise its controversial message, but I adored every single frame of this fucked-up little ditty. The film follows a woman and her husband in an isolated countryside house. After a strange couple pop in and just decide to stay, their lives are shifted in horrifying ways. I can’t get too into details, because it would spoil some of the film’s nasty surprises and metaphorical madness. I will say that MOTHER! is my favorite horror film of the 2010s so far and one of the ballsiest films to ever receive a nationwide theatrical release. People either really love this film or totally hate it. There isn’t much middle ground to be found and you will likely walk away with a very strong opinion about it. One of the film’s trailers promised that “you’ll never forget where you were the first time you saw MOTHER!” and that statement is completely accurate. I’ve been thinking about this unforgettable horror film since its release and I can’t wait to dive into it again and again in future years to come!

Well, 2017 was a wild year for me…both on this site and in my personal life. I’m currently in the process of moving, so reviews will resume sometime in January! I plan to keep this little movie blog rolling, with plenty of reviews (both old and new) being pumped out on a mostly regular basis! A huge “thank you” to anyone who’s read this blog at all during the past year or any new readers who are discovering it for the first time. There was plenty to love in the world of film during 2017 and here’s to a just as great (if not better) 2018!

EYES WIDE SHUT (1999)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 39 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sexual Content, Nudity, Language and some Drug-Related Material

Directed by: Stanley Kubrick

Written by: Stanley Kubrick & Frederic Raphael

(based on the novel DREAM STORY by Arthur Schnitzler)

Starring: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack, Marie Richardson, Todd Field, Sky du Mont, Rade Serbedzija, Vinessa Shaw, Fay Masterson, Leelee Sobieski & Alan Cumming

Stanley Kubrick had a long, storied career in cinema. Kubrick is known as one of the greatest directors who ever lived and he also directed three of my favorite films of all-time (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, THE SHINING, and FULL METAL JACKET). Kubrick’s final film arrived four months after his death, but it’s worth noting that he completed his final cut a mere six days before his passing. EYES WIDE SHUT opened to lots of mixed reception from audiences and polarized critics. Having seen this strange film for the first time, I love it and at the same time know that there’s lots of themes that I haven’t even uncovered yet. Also, this is technically a Christmas movie, so consider this to be 2017’s Christmas review!

Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) and his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) are part of the upper-crust crowd in New York. After visiting a Christmas party where they both get hit on by other people (Alice by a much older man and Bill by two sexy younger women), Bill and Alice decide to smoke some potent pot. Their casual night of getting stoned results in a heated argument about sex and Alice reveals that she once contemplated cheating on Bill. As a result, Bill goes to take a house call and winds up on a strange night-long journey that takes him into the seediest areas of New York. Curiosity and perversion quickly land Bill in the clutches of a secret society…and he slowly realizes that his life and family may be in very real danger from this mysterious masked group.

As far as the technical side of EYES WIDE SHUT goes, Stanley Kubrick continued to demonstrate his skills as a master filmmaker. The Christmas setting doesn’t just add a touch of irony to the very adult-oriented story, but simultaneously provides an excuse for lots of beautifully lit settings. Apparently, Kubrick used natural lighting and drew off of the many random Christmas decorations for the atmosphere in certain scenes. This colorful effect provides an almost dream-like quality to the entire film that seems appropriate, especially given the surreal nature of the story.

At the time of this film’s production, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman were married and their chemistry definitely comes across on the screen as the film’s main married couple. Kidman plays her seductive role very well and the viewer never quite knows what she has on her mind, especially during the argument scene that really thrusts Cruise’s protagonist onto his torrid journey across a sex-filled New York. Meanwhile, Tom Cruise almost shows shades of Jack Nicholson in his performance as Bill, especially when he flies off the deep end in moments. Even though Cruise and Kidman clearly have obvious chemistry, there are hints that they are fooling themselves to stay in love. This relationship dynamic directly parallels other (more suspenseful) plot developments and is further highlighted by the film’s title (referring to the willful deception of someone, in this case, these two main characters).

EYES WIDE SHUT’s supporting cast mostly seems like means to an end, but that’s not necessarily a flaw in this film. Each character has a distinct purpose and that purpose benefits the story arc that Cruise’s character ultimately goes through. The fairy tale atmosphere is further heightened by the ridiculous nature of a few of these folks. Alan Cumming is a colorful hotel clerk who delivers verbal clues in a single scene. Rade Serbedzija is a crazy costume store owner, whilst Leelee Sobieski has a soft-spoken part as his promiscuous daughter. Vinessa Shaw has a few minutes of screen time as a prostitute, but makes a big impression. Todd Field plays a loud-mouthed pianist who tempts Cruise to venture further into dangerous territory. Finally, Sydney Pollack serves as Cruise’s best friend and ultimately drives forward the film’s bizarre dialogue-filled finale.

Speaking of the finale, this paragraph may dive into minor spoilers. If you want to go in spoiler-free, then skip to the next paragraph. The final third of EYES WIDE SHUT plays out like a bizarre paranoid thriller and the viewer ultimately doesn’t receive many concrete answers by the conclusion. Instead, Kubrick places us into the exact same position as Cruise’s main character and leaves us to decide if want to accept one explanation over another. There is an explanation given to Cruise’s main character in a speech, but it doesn’t exactly seem completely believable. However, the alternative explanation is far more sinister and leaves vague possibilities open for interpretation. Personally, I choose to go with the latter choice, but some viewers might find themselves frustrated by the ending’s sheer ambiguity.

It goes without saying, but EYES WIDE SHUT is filled with sex. However, Kubrick doesn’t simply focus on the pleasures of sexual acts. He also dives into darker territory. The crazy costume owner and the single-scene prostitute’s storylines are both briefly returned to after the initial night’s journey, with disturbingly tragic results. Also, the masked orgy sequence that earned the film an NC-17 from the MPAA seems far more creepy than it does sexy. Maybe it has something to do with the bizarre masks, but it seems like the unsexiest orgy to ever hit the big screen and that sort of seems to be a point that Kubrick was aiming for in this film.

EYES WIDE SHUT is definitely an acquired taste film. Even diehard Kubrick fans seem split down the middle on whether this is a misunderstood masterpiece or an ambitious misfire. I fall on the side of loving this film. It left me with a lot to think about and the nearly three-hour-long running time rushed by. From a sheer technical standpoint, Kubrick’s directing is flawless in EYES WIDE SHUT. From a narrative standpoint, the ending is unsatisfying in the best possible way (if that makes sense)…as we’re placed into the exact same position as the main character. If you want an unusual Christmas flick for adults or just want to dive into another bizarre journey from one of cinema’s best directors, then definitely give EYES WIDE SHUT a look. Just be prepared for lots of nudity, sex, bizarre moments, and an appropriately uncomfortably brilliant viewing experience.

Grade: A+

THE MUMMY (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Violence, Action and Scary Images, and for some Suggestive Content and partial Nudity

Directed by: Alex Kurtzman

Written by: David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie & Dylan Kussman

Starring: Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Marwan Kenzari & Russell Crowe

To be perfectly honest, I consider 1932’s THE MUMMY to be the worst Universal Monster movie (right below the missed opportunity that was THE INVISIBLE MAN). More honesty, I love the 1999 Brendan Fraser reboot and even like THE MUMMY RETURNS. I was looking forward to Universal’s new reboot of THE MUMMY and appreciated they were sticking to a more action-oriented approach. However, 2017’s THE MUMMY is not so much its own movie as it is a prologue that lays groundwork for future films in Universal’s so-called Dark Universe (interconnected reboots of classic monsters). I’m sad to say that this new MUMMY isn’t much fun at all and easily ranks as the worst big screen outing I’ve had since 2015’s FANTASTIC FOUR.

In Iraq, thief/soldier Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and his bandit buddy Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) accidentally uncover a hidden tomb. Inside the underground burial site, there’s treasure, camel spiders and one mercury-covered sarcophagus. Much to the dismay of his archeologist love-interest Jennifer Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), Nick shoots a chain and awakens a cursed mummy. The mummy is Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) and she’s “chosen” Nick to be her future vessel for Egyptian god of violence Set. Jennifer and Nick desperately try to break the curse before it’s too late, all while Ahmanet raises rotting henchmen and tries to piece together a cursed dagger to bring about her evil plan. Also, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (Russell Crowe) pops up as a Nick Fury type character…for some reason.

One might hope that Tom Cruise’s sheer charisma might save THE MUMMY from being absolutely insufferable to sit through, but you’d be terribly mistaken. Cruise is playing his role on auto-pilot, lacking a single ounce of his usual action-hero swagger or one believable emotion. THE MUMMY is easily the worst film in Cruise’s rather good filmography. During many points, Cruise just seems to be trying to imitate Brendan Fraser’s character from the 1999 version and failing to understand why Fraser was so good in those movies. Every time Cruise attempts a bit of off-kilter humor or a one-liner, it hits with a dud and winds up being shockingly unfunny.

However, Cruise’s performance seems award-worthy when compared to costar Annabelle Wallis, who comes off like the discount version of Emily Blunt. She’s bland, wooden, and lacks any charm whatsoever, though she attempts to be funny at certain points too and even tries (and fails) to inject emotional stakes into the proceedings. Jake Johnson is annoying as Cruise’s partner, who pops up in a gimmick that’s ripped off from the decaying friend in AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. Also, Russell Crowe is in this movie as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde…for some reason.

Finally, there’s Sofia Boutella as the titular monster herself. This actress was fantastic as the blade-legged baddie in KINGSMAN, so I was hoping she would deliver a cool villainess here. I was sadly mistaken because Princess Ahmanet can’t seem to do a damn thing for herself. She kisses people to death and has a lame final confrontation, but that’s about it. Her other scenes typically involve undead henchmen helping her, alongside poorly rendered CGI sand storms and occasional spiders/rats.

Speaking of which, THE MUMMY’s effects are piss poor to the point where they resemble something from 2004’s horrid VAN HELSING or a typical Syfy channel movie. The worst example of this comes in Mr. Hyde, who’s just a grayish cross-eyed CGI version of Russell Crowe. There’s also a monster in the film’s finale that’s cartoonishly awful and somehow Universal expects to re-incorporate this effect into their later Dark Universe installments. This all being said, I did have brief fun watching Cruise fight Ahmanet’s mummified henchmen in two scenes and that alone saves this movie from being a complete failure.

THE MUMMY’s biggest sin is that it’s barely a movie and plays more like a feature-length prologue for other movies in the Dark Universe line-up (the next being 2019’s BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN). That Dark Universe now seems highly unlikely, given that this film has underperformed at the box office and received negative responses from both critics and audiences alike. There was not a single gasp, cheer, scream, laugh or emotional response to be found from the audience I saw this film with. THE MUMMY is a dull piece of non-entertainment, in which story, scares, and fun all take a backseat to set up future installments in a series that probably won’t even happen. THE MUMMY is everything wrong with modern Hollywood because it treats the audience like idiots, recycles material without ever realizing what made it work in the first place, and hopes that viewers will be suckered into coming back for the next chapter in a cinematic universe. You should treat this film like an ancient Egyptian curse and avoid it!

Grade: D-

My Top 15 Films of 2015

List by Derrick Carter

2015 was a great year for cinema. So much so, that I’ve decided not to make a “Top 10 Films” of the year, but a “Top 15” instead. It should be noted that I haven’t seen every single movie that came out during the past twelve months. I’m one man after all and only pay money for and spend time on stuff that interests me. That being said, I reviewed 132 new releases during 2015. There are a few movies that I plan on covering and could have potentially made this list if I had seen them in 2015. These are: THE REVENANT, CAROL, ANOMALISA, and SON OF SAUL. The fifteen titles that did make the cut are flicks that I absolutely loved, plan on adding to my collection, and rewatching many times for years to come. I don’t expect everybody to agree with all of them, but hopefully I’ve recommended a couple of films that peak your interest.

Before getting into list itself, I feel a few honorable mentions are in order. BRIDGE OF SPIES showed that Steven Spielberg has not lost a shred of talent over the years. THE JINX proved to be a groundbreaking true-crime documentary that literally made history. Coming off a string of misfires, Melissa McCarthy delivered her funniest comedy yet in SPY. Finally, on the scary side of things, KRAMPUS is a great holiday horror-comedy that I plan on making an annual Christmas tradition and GOODNIGHT MOMMY is a freaky shudder-inducing little nightmare. Without further ado, I’ll move onto my favorite films of 2015…

15. Black Mass

15. BLACK MASS: Throughout the years, Johnny Depp has become a ghost of his former talented self, but delivered one of his best performances ever this year. He disappeared into the role Whitey Bulger and became a terrifying on-screen monster. The story is a complex one that couldn’t easily be told in the space of a two-hour film. Though I feel it would have been a modern crime masterpiece if 30 more minutes had been tacked onto the final third, director Scott Cooper did a phenomenal job portraying one of the most notorious gangster stories in American history. Depp isn’t necessarily the star of this movie as the rest of the cast is especially strong. Joel Edgerton, Kevin Bacon, Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Sarsgaard, Rory Cochrane, Adam Scott, and many more round out a great ensemble picture. It might not be a modern GOODFELLAS, but I’d rank it as a modern CASINO. BLACK MASS is easily one of the best real-life gangster films to come out of the new millennium.

14. It Follows

14. IT FOLLOWS: In the vein of the original HALLOWEEN and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, IT FOLLOWS is one of the single scariest viewing experiences that I’ve had all year. I attended a midnight screening at Sundance and everyone was losing their minds in the theater over this film. While it only has a few big jolts, IT FOLLOWS manages to get under your skin and stay there. I found myself getting progressively more creeped out when I arrived home and couldn’t stop thinking about the film. What’s even better about this movie is how it took the more difficult and complicated route instead of merely becoming a supernatural slasher. Instead, the film lets a dread-soaked atmosphere float around the viewer…and like “it” does to the characters themselves, that feeling follows you around long after the end credits have rolled.

13. Going Clear

13. GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF: The best documentary that I watched all year, GOING CLEAR is a fascinating and disturbing look into the inner workings of Scientology. Covering the formation of this so-called “religion” (you won’t blame me for calling it a cult after you watch this doc) to the huge amount of controversy surrounding it to the systematic abuse of its followers and opponents, GOING CLEAR is a harrowing watch. The testimonies from former members of the church are both chilling and heartbreaking. Some masterful editing also allows for brief moments of humor, such as a cheesy Scientology music video and an improvised awards ceremony invented specifically for Tom Cruise. As I stated in my review back in March, GOING CLEAR would almost be ridiculous and amusing, if it weren’t so devastating and terrifying.

12. Hateful Eight

12. THE HATEFUL EIGHT: It might not be Tarantino’s best film, but I loved the hell out of the HATEFUL EIGHT! A far more contained story than Tarantino’s recent Oscar nominees, this is pretty much RESERVOIR DOGS set in the Old West with more suspense. Besides that familiar set up, Tarantino manages to milk a massive amount of tension from each scene leading up to many unexpected revelations, over-the-top gore, and sick humor. I was on the edge of my seat throughout, almost fell out of my chair laughing at one point, and left totally satisfied.

11. Kingsman

11. KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE: Nobody expected this movie to be nearly as good as it was. The two best descriptions I can give KINGSMAN are that it’s either the KICK-ASS of spy movies or a very R-rated take on SPY KIDS. The film is wild, crazy, fast-paced and never takes itself seriously. In a year that’s been populated by plenty of superheroes, KINGSMAN is my favorite comic book adaptation of 2015. The church scene alone was one of the most jaw-dropping sequences I’ve sat through all year. The rest of the film is hugely entertaining and has the balls to take risks. KINGSMAN was definitely one of the biggest cinematic surprises I had all year, but it was upended by…

10. Gift

10. THE GIFT: This is the biggest surprise that I had in 2015. The trailer made it look like a generic thriller that had already been done a million times before. However, this can all be chalked up to bad marketing because Joel Edgerton pulled triple duty and put his heart into this well-crafted shocker. The film intentionally misleads the audience through various points before unleashing big bombshells upon them. The ending also left me speechless and contemplating it for days afterwards. This is one of those films that is pretty much guaranteed to generate a discussion with other film-loving friends. THE GIFT is not a predictable black-and-white thriller, but something much deeper and far scarier.

9. MI5

9. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE -ROGUE NATION: The MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE series has had its ups and downs. The first was good. The second was crap. The third was great. The fourth was fun. However, I don’t think anybody could have predicted that the fifth installment of this high-octane spy series would be the best of the bunch thus far. That was definitely the case as ROGUE NATION unleashed compelling high stakes, brought back old characters as if no time had passed at all, introduced a cool new ones, and had some fantastic set-pieces. In many ways (Bond girl, villain, secret evil organization), MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE -ROGUE NATION was a far better Bond movie than the actual Bond movie we received this year.

8. Crimson Peak

8. CRIMSON PEAK: This gorgeously realized film feels like Edgar Allan Poe and Jane Austen penned a novel together and then Guillermo Del Toro adapted it to the screen. Those who go in expecting endless jump scares and a typical ghost story will find themselves either let down or elated by the film being a gothic romance that happens to contain some very frightening ghosts and thick horror elements in its story. Every frame of the film is beautiful to look at and atmospheric beyond belief. There are shots of this movie that I haven’t been able to get out of my head since I originally saw it and I believe it’s among the very best of Guillermo Del Toro’s filmography. Jessica Chastain is also a fearsome force to behold!

7. Spotlight

7. SPOTLIGHT: A tastefully made movie about one of the most disturbing cover-ups in recent history. SPOTLIGHT could have easily gone for shock value and went all out to demonize religion as a whole. Actually, that’s sort of what I was expecting it to do when I walked into the theater. Imagine my surprise at how restrained and respectful this film is. Aided by one of the most realistic looks at journalism that you’re bound to see on film, the movie packs in so much emotion without ever crossing the line into anything that possibly resemble shock value or cheap shots. Instead, the film asks tough questions, brings powerful performances to the screen, and leaves the viewer with a lot to chew on. This is one of the most important movies of 2015.

6. Macbeth

6. MACBETH: Shakespeare has been brought to the big screen in many ways by many different filmmakers. This beautiful, bleak take on the Scottish Play might just be my favorite Shakespeare movie thus far. With dialogue being delivered in a naturalistic manner and some creative licensing thrown into the centuries-old material, this version of MACBETH somehow improves upon the already perfect tragedy by adding unexpected context into the mix. Michael Fassbender is stunning as the title character, but it’s Marion Cotillard who steals the show. Lady Macbeth is actually made into a sympathetic character which is something that I felt could never, ever be accomplished in any take on the play. It’s also worth noting that this is definitely not a Shakespeare adaptation that will be shown in many high school classrooms, which is a very good thing indeed!

5. Sicario

5. SICARIO: In 2013, Denis Villeneuve wowed me with PRISONERS. In 2015, he returned with the complex cartel thriller SICARIO. A movie that never allows you to get comfortable in your seat or breathe normally throughout its entire running time, SICARIO is a grim, bleak, and depressing movie…and all the better for it. This thriller had a number of stand-out sequences, an intense beyond words finale being one of them. Villeneuve knew precisely when to merely imply the dark deeds occurring just beyond a locked door and when to casually showcase disturbing sights in broad daylight. Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, and Josh Brolin are all fantastic in their parts. It’s likely that SICARIO will keep you thinking about it long after you’ve finished watching it, but just be prepared for that as there’s no glimmer of happiness or hope to be found within a single frame of this film.

4. Ex Machina

4. EX MACHINA: One of the best pieces of thought-provoking science-fiction to come out in a long, long time, EX MACHINA is a brilliantly crafted beast of a film. I loved everything about it when I first watched it back in April. The performances from the leads (likable Domnhall Gleeson, robotic Alicia Vikander, and scary Oscar Isaac) make for a film that’s pretty much a three character play. The uniquely designed house/research facility is almost a character as well, because the sense of claustrophobia and steadily rising tension become damn near nightmarish by the final third. The effects are excellently rendered and the film gets even better upon repeat viewings (little details stuck out more during the second and third times that I watched it). The hauntingly beautiful soundtrack is just the icing on the cake for my fourth best film of 2015.

3. Room

3. ROOM: Difficult and immensely rewarding, ROOM is a drama like no other. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name (which in turn was inspired by a real-life kidnapping case), this film is tense and remarkably uplifting. Throughout the whole running time, the story walks a tightrope between being heartwarming and heartbreaking. It ultimately winds up with the best of both worlds as various audience members (including myself) were crying at various points throughout the film. As sad as it can be, I left feeling immensely uplifted by this beautiful movie about love and courage. Brie Larson (the frontrunner for Best Actress of 2015) and 9-year-old Jacob Tremblay (giving one of the best child performances that I’ve ever seen in my entire life) are both wholly convincing and believable. I cannot praise this movie enough. It’s amazing!

2. Inside Out

2. INSIDE OUT: A family film that’s made more for adults than it is for children, INSIDE OUT wound up being one of the most emotional theater experiences of 2015 for me (pun fully intended). Though it may look sweet, innocent and cute on the outside, the movie packs a lot of emotional truths that will hit older viewers far more than kids who just want to watch a cartoon. It’s also the biggest tearjerker that I saw all year (right next to ROOM). The film is just beautiful and encapsulates everything that life itself in brilliantly creative ways. It also has one of the most mature messages that I’ve ever seen in a children’s film. It’s not only my second favorite movie of 2015, but my favorite Pixar movie thus far!

1. Mad Max Fury Road

1. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD: Director/writer George Miller had over two decades to craft his fourth MAD MAX movie to perfection and that’s exactly what he did! MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was easily one of the most adrenaline-pumping, kick-ass movies that I’ve ever experienced in a theater. I loved it so much that I saw it twice within four days on the big screen and it has enjoyed many repeat viewings since its home video release. Though some fans have joked that it’s simply a two-hour chase scene, the story manages to encapsulate far more than that. There are issues of gender, slavery, religion, etc. that all come up in subtle (sometimes, obvious), smart ways throughout the film. The movie never stops to deliver heavy-handed exposition to the viewer and gives enough details so we can simply figure it all out for ourselves. The visuals look incredible as this apocalyptic wasteland was wholly convincing, in no small part due to practical effects, dangerous stunt work, and subtle green screen effects. FURY ROAD has joined the rare breed of perfect summer blockbusters that includes the likes of ALIENS and TERMINATOR 2. Bravo!

2015 was a year that was packed full of releases. Some were amazing, some were good, and others fell lower on the cinematic totem pole. It’s definitely been one of the most interesting years for cinema and I look forward to seeing what 2016 has in store for filmgoers!

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 11 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Action and Violence, and brief partial Nudity

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Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie

Written by: Christopher McQuarrie

(based on the TV series MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE by Bruce Geller)

Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Alec Baldwin, Simon McBurney & Zhang Jingchu

Before June of this year, I had never seen a single MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie. I didn’t grow up watching the series, so I didn’t have any nostalgia for it. Watching those four movies for the first time, I saw the series like this: MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE is big dumb fun, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 tries too hard to be cool, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III has the best villain of the series, and GHOST PROTOCOL is a better-than-expected fourth installment. All my preparation of watching those films was for ROGUE NATION (the fifth film in the franchise) and I’m so glad I got into this series at all, because MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION is one of the best films to hit the big screen this summer!

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IMF agent Ethan Hunt is convinced that there’s a threat out there far bigger than any he’s ever faced before. This enemy is a group known as The Syndicate. Though they only serve as tall-tales for the C.I.A. and the rest of IMF, Ethan discovers that the Syndicate is very real and have it out for him. They are an anti-IMF. They assassinate world leaders and collapse foreign economies. It’s a mastermind criminal group made to break societies. With IMF torn down by the C.I.A., only Ethan and a handful of former IMF agents (as well as a questionable femme fatale) have any hope of stopping this terrorist organization from completing their master plan.

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The plots in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE franchise range from clichéd and stupid (a deadly virus being used by a terrorist, a madman armed with some nukes) to complicated and clever (a weapons dealer enacting revenge on an IMF agent). Having sat through all four films recently, I find ROGUE NATION’s plot to be the most complex story yet in the series. This feels like the most mature and adult MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie yet. It’s a result of the series slowly evolving over the later sequels. Tight editing and strong momentum make the film seem neat and compact in its 131-minute running time.

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It should come as no surprise that Tom Cruise slips right back into the role of Ethan Hunt with ease. As an action hero, there’s no denying that Cruise can still carry a blockbuster squarely on his shoulders. However, ROGUE NATION also lends bigger roles to the side characters this time around. Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames and Jeremy Renner all have big parts to play. It was nice seeing them used as equal members of a team and not merely as means to an end. Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson (coming off last summer’s awful HERCULES) plays one of the most interesting female characters in this franchise. You’re never fully certain which side she’s on, but her mere presence forces you to like her either way. While Philip Seymour Hoffman remains a vicious baddie who cannot be topped, Sean Harris plays my second-favorite villain in the series. He’s evil and calculating, but there’s also an understandable motivation behind his actions (explained as the film goes along). He was perfect in this role and can’t wait to see what he takes on next.

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Of course, what’s a MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie without insane action scenes. Opening with an airplane stunt (that’s been posted in every piece of marketing for this film), ROGUE NATION packs a ton of adrenaline-pumping excitement into a story that knows where to place these crazy scenes. The gun fights and car chases don’t feel pointless or forced in the slightest. Instead, they weave right into the complex plot. One lengthy sequence set at an opera house was a special highlight for me. I was constantly on the edge of my seat through the whole film though. Every scene is riveting for one reason or another.

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It’s crazy how the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE franchise seems to have come full circle and become the highest possible version of popcorn entertainment. However, this fifth film is far from big and dumb. Instead, it’s the most mature, complicated entry yet and made all the better for it. It was originally rumored that this fifth entry would be the final MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie and I can say that the franchise would have gone out on its highest note. However, if the sixth film (now in production) is anywhere near as accomplished and hugely entertaining as this fifth entry, bring it on! I have nothing negative to say about this summer blockbuster. I loved every second of ROGUE NATION!

Grade: A+

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL (2011)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 13 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Intense Action and Violence

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Directed by: Brad Bird

Written by: Josh Appelbaum & Andre Nemec

Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Michael Nyqvist, Vladimir Mashkov & Samuli Edelmann

Of all the series I’ve covered for 2015’s summer movie releases, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE was the one that I was least enthused about. I had never seen any of the Tom Cruise blockbusters until about a week ago and (aside from the second film) I’m very glad that I finally took the plunge into the franchise spawned by a 1960’s TV series. The 1996 original is the epitome of big, dumb popcorn entertainment. 2000’s sequel was too concerned over style and weighed down by a bad screenplay to be any fun. 2006’s third installment easily surpassed both films to become an outright great movie. So five years after that second sequel, director Brad Bird delivered MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL. Where does this fourth film sit? It’s somewhere snuggly between the first and the third.

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Ethan Hunt is doing time in a Russian prison, but IMF extracts him for another seemingly impossible task. This time around, Ethan and his team are being sent into the Kremlin to retrieve files on a terrorist known as “Cobalt.” Unfortunately for them, the mission doesn’t run as smoothly as planned (do they ever?) and the Kremlin is bombed by the very terrorist they were looking for. Ethan and his team members make it out alive, but tensions between the USA and Russia have risen to a level where IMF is disbanded. It’s up to Ethan and his small band of former IMF agents to take down Cobalt, prove their innocence, and retrieve nuclear codes before the unthinkable occurs.

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You might notice that plot sounds a bit generic this time around, almost as generic as your typical spy thriller a.k.a. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2. However, it’s all in the execution. Director Brad Bird (who is most famous for his animated work) knows exactly how to pull off a “been there, done that” script in a way that feels fresh. He throws a number of suspenseful scenarios and the most grandiose action to grace a MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie thus far. Though number three is still my favorite for a variety of reasons, the action is definitely most exciting and ridiculously awesome in GHOST PROTOCOL. We get intense chase scenes, fights while the stakes are at the their highest, and Tom Cruise scaling the world’s tallest building with a pair of faulty gloves. That last scene ramps up unbelievable levels of tension and is bound to make those afraid of heights wet their pants. Though the formula of making the action even more over-the-top with each entry can easily backfire, it works well for the fourth MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE.

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As far as the performances go, Tom Cruise is back in true action hero form as Ethan Hunt. Whatever you may think of his personal life, Cruise shines as this memorable agent always facing off against impossible odds. Though previous characters pop up for cameos, Simon Pegg is the only other big name to return from any of the previous films. He serves as the obvious comic relief, but does a damn fine job of it. Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner are new additions to the M:I team, but pull their weight. Renner is especially enjoyable in his role as an analyst turned amateur agent. While the good guys are worth rooting for, the villain is super bland this time around. It seems like the filmmakers knew that they would never be able to top Hoffman’s arms dealer, so they went in an entirely new direction. While I liked the concept of this nuclear extremist (played by Michael Nyqvist of the original GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO), he simply doesn’t have much dialogue or enough screen time. I knew he was a baddie and that’s about all there was to his character. He just seems a little anti-climactic when compared to his competition in the series, even the moronic villain in M:I 2 is slightly more fleshed out in comparison.

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GHOST PROTOCOL stands as the second-best MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie thus far. Though it suffers from clichés and a boring villain, the fourth film in the franchise manages to up the excitement and entertainment through crazy action and solid suspense. If you’re a fan of the first three films (or even just one and three, like myself), then GHOST PROTOCOL should be right up your alley. This leaves me excited for the fifth (and supposedly final) film in the franchise coming on July 31. So far, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE is three for four and those aren’t bad odds.

Grade: B+

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III (2006)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 6 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Frenetic Violence and Menace, Disturbing Images and some Sensuality

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Directed by: J.J. Abrams

Written by: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci & J.J. Abrams

Starring: Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames, Billy Crudup, Michelle Monaghan, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Maggie Q, Simon Pegg, Eddie Marsan & Laurence Fishburne

Despite having never been that interested in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE franchise before this year, the only tidbit of knowledge that I knew about any of the films was that Philip Seymour Hoffman played the villain in the third movie. That alone was enough to make me excited for this to cleanse the palette after the disaster that was MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2. This third installment in the blockbuster franchise is the best that I’ve seen in the series (I will be watching GHOST PROTOCOL soon) thus far. Intense, exciting and smart, this MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE does something that neither of the previous entries did for me. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III actually made me feel like our main character was in constant peril and that the danger might overcome him at any point. I felt the dread, suspense and excitement rush through every single intense sequence, plot twist and action scene. It’s almost unheard of to see a third installment in any series one-up its predecessors, but that’s exactly what MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III does in every way.

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Since the events of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2, Ethan Hunt has retired from IMF missions and found love in his fiancé. He’s drawn back into one last assignment when a former protégé is captured. The rescue mission goes sour and Ethan finds himself hunting for a powerful black-market figure. The villain is Owen Davian, a notorious arms dealer who has pretty much become an invisible man. When Ethan is tipped off about Davian’s latest whereabouts, he sets in motion a complicated plan to kidnap Davian. Unfortunately, not everything in this plan is solid and sound. Things quickly spiral out of control. Soon, Ethan finds himself being specifically targeted by Davian and his fiancé being held hostage in the crosshairs.

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While MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE was a big popcorn-muncher of a movie and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 tried too hard to be stylish and cool, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III easily sports the best script of the first three films. It ups the ante from the very beginning by showing a scene that we can anticipate later on in the movie. While I usually complain about stories starting off in non-linear fashion as a cheap gimmicky approach, this works far better in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III as the scene is an undeniably tense one. It gives us a vulnerable side of Ethan that we’ve never seen before in either of the previous entries, while also showing just how scary Hoffman is as the villain. The former is definitely a big part of what works so well for me about MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III. Adventures can only be so exciting when anyone can correctly predict where everything is heading and there’s no sense that the hero might fail. M:I 3’s script delivers a solid atmosphere of danger that hovers over every moment in which Ethan finds himself outgunned. It’s a nice change of pace for a series that seemed so content to play it safe and by-the-numbers.

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Since the screenplay is rock solid and the high stakes feel like high stakes this time around, the action scenes are extremely exciting. That’s also not to mention that the comic relief actually works, because it’s not overly excessive. Little moments of laughter do ease the tension a bit, but never dominate the scenes. One sequence of Ethan breaking into a heavily guarded building has the best punchline of any of the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movies delivered by Ving Rhames. Aside from stellar script, a nice change of pace, and exciting action, Philip Seymour Hoffman dominates as Davian. He’s a calm, cold, son of a bitch in the role. Exuding a bit of smugness, but more sociopathic tendencies than expected, Hoffman is one villain that you love to hate. He’s scary in how he delivers chilling dialogue in such a matter-of-fact, routine fashion as if the evil deeds he’s committing are really nothing to him…because they aren’t a big deal in his eyes at all. I doubt that we’ll receive another top-notch villain to the same high-caliber degree as Davian in the entire series. He’s that good!

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It’s not often that you can say a third entry in a blockbuster series manages to outdo the first and second installments, but that’s exactly the case with MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III. You can sense that somebody genuinely cared about crafting a solid film as opposed to just throwing out yet another generic sequel. The acting and characters are solid across the board, with Hoffman being the biggest scene-stealer of the bunch. The action is adrenaline-pumping and has actual emotion put behind it. The story is engaging and takes the series in an entirely different direction than simply an unstoppable guy saving the world again. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III improves on its predecessors tenfold and manages to become a great adventure in the process.

Grade: A

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 (2000)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 3 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Violent Action and some Sensuality

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Directed by: John Woo

Written by: Robert Towne

Starring: Tom Cruise, Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton, Ving Rhames, Richard Roxburgh, John Polson & Brendan Gleeson

Seeing as 1996’s MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE was such a big, dumb, action-packed hit among audiences, you’d expect that a sequel (especially one with John Woo as director) would be bigger, dumber and even more action-packed. You would definitely be right on it being dumber, but I’m not sure if the bigger and more action-packed descriptions are entirely correct. It has been noted by many fans that MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 is considered to be the worst in the series. I really hope that’s the case, because I was bored out of my mind whilst watching this supposedly adrenaline-filled ride. This second installment in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE franchise is laughably overstylized, carried by a bland script and feels like a vanity project for Cruise. If this didn’t have Tom Cruise slapped on the front, I could easily see this film starring a washed up Steven Seagal or Christopher Lambert.

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Ever since his little escapade in the first film, Ethan Hunt has been a full-fledged IMF agent. His latest assignment has required him to climb a rocky cliff with his bare hands in order to pick up a specialized pair of exploding sunglasses. After putting on the glasses (in slow motion, of course), Ethan is informed that a deadly virus (known as Chimera) is in the hands of rogue IMF agent Sean Ambrose. Ethan will have to use former thief and Ambrose’s ex-flame Nyah Nordoff-Hall to get close to the rogue IMF agent and his super virus. With the clock ticking and an ever predictable plan unfolding, Ethan begins falling for Hall…all while Ambrose begins to suspect that something might be up.

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In a MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE film, you’d expect crazy excitement right out of the gate, but that’s not the case with MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2. Instead, the first 20 minutes consist of the pre-credits obligatory villain introduction and Tom Cruise wooing the former thief (played by Thandie Newton). Even when we receive a car chase or surveillance scene, they come off as laughable in these early moments. It takes a long while for anything remotely interesting or exciting to happen in this sequel. That’s not to say the film doesn’t have a couple of enjoyable action sequences, but these are rarely the case. With little action to distract from the convoluted plot (in a stark contrast to the first film), the plot holes stick out with glaring stupidity. These include a dumbass villain who seems to foiling his own plan with a series of idiotic decisions. Another unintentionally hilarious aspect comes in a scene where Tom Cruise seems to form an unspoken psychic connection with pigeons and doves (this is still John Woo, after all) to knock out a bunch of random henchmen.

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What makes MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 that much more of a disappointment are the bigger names in the cast. Tom Cruise seems to revel in the camera being on him throughout this entire film. He constantly looks like he’s posing for a magazine cover, even when he’s supposed to be in action scene. It never feels like he’s in any danger whatsoever, even though the first movie also sort of suffered from the same problem. Ving Rhames plays the computer genius who delivers lots of exposition and doesn’t really do much of anything else. Thandie Newton is the typically bland damsel-in-distress/love-interest for Cruise. Anthony Hopkins and Brendan Gleeson also pop up for…some reason. Maybe, they just wanted a quick paycheck (though Gleeson wasn’t nearly as big as he is today). Finally, Dougray Scott is a pathetic villain. He’s just so generic. There wasn’t much to his character other than being interested in superweapons and money, but little in the way of an entertaining delivery or crazed personality.

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While watching MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2, I couldn’t help but get the sense that it seemed like nobody on the set really cared about this sequel…except for Tom Cruise and John Woo. John Woo cared because he wanted to throw explosions, slow motion and doves at the screen. Tom Cruise cared because it gave him an excuse to flash his smile, flip his luscious locks during a would-be climactic fight scene, and do a model pose in every possible frame of film that he could. This is a lackluster sequel that’s just plain bad. Aside from a couple of enjoyable action moments and unintentional hilarity, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 is quite boring. This sequel feels like it’s trying to focus on being way more hip and cool this time around, all while never understanding why the simple crazy thrills in the original worked as well as they did.

Grade: D

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (1996)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some Intense Action Violence

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Directed by: Brian De Palma

Written by: David Koepp & Robert Towne

Starring: Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Beart, Henry Czerny, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas & Vanessa Redgrave

In the realm of big, dumb popcorn entertainment, things usually don’t get any bigger, dumber and popcornier than 1996’s MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. This spy thriller broke many records during its release. These included widest release (just over 3,000 screens) and highest opening. Though these records would be shattered shortly down the line (TITANIC was only a year away), the TV show turned summer blockbuster quickly launched a franchise. Seeing as the fifth entry arrives at the end of July and I had never sat through a single MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie before (I know), I decided it was high time that I tackle the series. Having just watched this first movie I can declare that it fits squarely in the realm of big, popcorn-munching turn-off-your-brain fun. Nothing more, nothing less.

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When there are jobs too difficult, dangerous and complex for the CIA, Interpol, FBI, etc., you call in the IMF (Impossible Missions Force). This super secret organization keeps its members identities a mystery as they need to keep under the radar in order to be highly skilled at their work. Ethan Hunt is an IMF agent who has undertaken his latest assignment. This involves retrieving a confidential list from a group of very bad people who plan on revealing the identities of every IMF agent (therefore making them ineffective and putting their lives in danger). When the mission goes horribly wrong and Ethan Hunt is framed for being a mole, he goes on the run. With IMF hunting Hunt (see what I did there?), he can only rely on a very select group of people to help him clear his name, keep the list safe, and undercover the real mole inside of his team.

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The screenplay of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE is a silly one. At first, the plot seems to be fairly simple, but then we keep getting new twists and turns that really don’t make too much sense when you think about them. However, they do serve as excuses for plenty of cool scenes. That’s the main purpose of this film it seems: being cool. You’re thrown right into this world of espionage and ridiculous gadgets. The viewer is automatically expected to care about each of these agents, but the movie moves at such a fast pace that I didn’t really care about anyone that much aside from Tom Cruise (because he’s our leading man) and Jean Reno (because it’s always nice to see LEON in any movie). I was having a fun with how wild and crazy MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE is, though it definitely reaches near John McClane levels of over-the-top absurdity by the conclusion.

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While most of the scenes are enjoyable in a purely dumb fun sense, including Ethan’s showdown with a helicopter whilst on top of a speeding train, there are a couple of moments where things get a little too bombastic. One scene in particular made me laugh but not in a good way. It’s involves gallons upon gallons of water spilling out in slow motion from a giant aquarium with broken glass and fish flying everywhere, all while Tom Cruise narrowly escapes its path in super slow-motion. You can tell that the scene clearly took a lot of effort to film and a lot of money (as well as water) to spill, but I found it all to be a bit…much. This all being said, a majority of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE moves at a pace so fast that you won’t find yourself able to nitpick many problems while you’re watching the film. My favorite part of the entire movie is the iconic break-in sequence that involves getting through three levels of security (lasers, sound & pressure, and heat). Every ounce of possible suspense is milked from that long and exciting piece of the story.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE is one of those movies that requires you to turn off your brain and simply enjoy a big dumb popcorn movie on its own merits. I’m not necessarily what you’d call a Tom Cruise fan, but found him to be a cool leading man in this obvious summer blockbuster. This film took the country by storm at its time of release and its easy to see why that is. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE is exciting, ridiculous and a lot of fun. All flaws considered, it’s a wholly entertaining ride!

Grade: B

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