THE NIGHT MANAGER (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 6 hours 1 minute

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Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie, Olivia Colman, Tom Hollander, Elizabeth Debicki, Alistair Petrie, Natasha Little, Douglas Hodge, David Harewood & Tobias Menzies

John Le Carre is known for writing realistic, down-to-earth versions of 007 material. As opposed to explosions and gun fights, you’re more likely to watch people have intense conversations, sneak around, and occasionally murder in a Le Carre adaptation. This British author has found unexpected modern resurgence with the critically acclaimed TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, brilliantly executed A MOST WANTED MAN, and upcoming OUR KIND OF TRAITOR. One of Le Carre’s novels has recently taken a turn to the smaller screen with BBC’s THE NIGHT MANAGER. If you’re into Le Carre’s espionage stories and talky thrillers, you’ll likely enjoy this miniseries. If you’re not into either of those things, this six-hour slow burn might bore you.

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Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) is a former British soldier turned hotel manager. After one particularly stressful night, Pine finds himself in possession of sensitive documents that detail illegal arms dealings. With evidence of enough illegal weaponry to start a war and a desire to stop these international criminals, Pine finds himself recruited by bureaucratic Angela Burr (Olivia Colman). Pine’s top-secret mission is to change his identity, infiltrate a group of arms dealers, and expose them for everything they’re worth. This assignment puts Pine headlong into the path of “worst man in the world” Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie), Roper’s attractive girlfriend Jed (Elizabeth Debicki), and his loyal assistant Corkoran (Tom Hollander). A game of cat-and-mouse ensues as Pine attempts to gather evidence, expose secrets, and maintain his cover.

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A film adaptation of THE NIGHT MANAGER has tentatively been in production for two decades, with one version featuring a far younger Hugh Laurie in the role of Pine. Various writers and directors came to the conclusion that there was simply too much material to squeeze into a single film, which made a miniseries format much more alluring. I personally think that this novel could have been tidily compacted into one tense three-hour movie, but this longer small-screen NIGHT MANAGER is allowed much more time to develop its characters within its six episodes. This extra time also allows for subplots to receive more attention that might have otherwise been excised entirely in a big screen version.

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NIGHT MANAGER’s episodes frequently cut between Pine and Roper’s cat-and-mouse game and much quieter scenes of Angela Burr’s struggles to keep the operation afloat, in spite of corrupt higher-ups in Roper’s pocket. Herein comes a pacing struggle, because Burr’s storyline only starts getting interesting during the final two episodes. Nearly everything in the latter storyline feels slightly like filler and noticeably detracts a bit from the far more intense (and interesting) battle of wills/wits between Hiddleston’s Pine and Laurie’s Roper. This may have been the way that John le Carre’s novel played out, but what is written on the page doesn’t always translate well to the screen. That might be the case here.

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Uneven pacing aside, THE NIGHT MANAGER is compelling if only to watch Tom Hiddleston play a character unlike any he’s ever touched before and to see Hugh Laurie portray a truly despicable villain. Hiddleston’s Jonathan Pine may seem like a stereotypical English gentlemen, but an inner darkness begins to reveal itself as the episodes go on. One shouldn’t mistake Pine’s politeness for weakness, because this man is a well-dressed 007 type that isn’t above committing violent acts in the name of revenge and the greater good. A cunning oppositional force comes in Laurie’s Richard Roper. Roper is a believable villain in that he rarely gets his hands dirty, but is more than willing to pay other “lower” people to do that for him. Roper is an intelligent businessman who happens to be in the business of death and destruction, which makes him extremely dangerous. The calm way in which Laurie’s baddie dolls out threats makes him even more intimidating, because we know that he absolutely means and will commit to every word he says.

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Elizabeth Debicki is convincing as Roper’s naïve wife and unconvincing as a forced love interest for Pine. Their romantic affair feels like an afterthought, when it should have been treated as a major plot development. If less time had been spent on the U.K. political subplot, then that might have been an option. As much as I’m ragging on her far less interesting and filler-filled storyline, Olivia Colman is serviceable enough as Agent Burr (Pine’s boss). The real scene-stealer of the supporting cast comes in Tom Hollander as Corkoran (a.k.a. Corky). Corky is such a wicked scumbag and doesn’t bother to hide it. His confrontations with Hiddleston are among the best moments in the entire miniseries. He’s a perfect sidekick to Hugh Laurie’s already diabolical antagonist.

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NIGHT MANAGER’s production values are stellar across the board. From theme credits that intersperse weapons alongside wine glasses and chandeliers to the eloquently expensive look of every frame, it’s clear that there was a big budget behind this miniseries. The story spans across many countries, allowing for glamorous shots and detailed locations. NIGHT MANAGER isn’t all glam and glitz though, because the series is remarkably tense, even in moments that don’t particularly seem exciting. I didn’t realize how wrapped up I was in this story until we are given a suspenseful sequence in which Pine is faced with a matter of seconds to grab some key info…or be caught by Roper and his dangerous friends.

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THE NIGHT MANAGER is a realistic James Bond story, complete with style, suspense, and a cat-stroking villain to boot (minus the cat). Hiddleston and Laurie’s tense battle of wits/wills makes this miniseries worth watching, even if Olivia Colman and her generic U.K. subplot feel like they belong in a different series altogether. Hollander’s Corky also sticks out as one of the miniseries greatest highlights. THE NIGHT MANAGER will likely satisfy viewers who can find a tense conversation to be equally as thrilling as an explosive shootout.

Grade: B+

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+

MUPPETS MOST WANTED (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 52 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for some mild Action

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Directed by: James Bobin

Written by: Nicholas Stoller & James Bobin

Starring: Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, Steve Whitmore, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, Peter Linz, Zach Galifianakis, Salma Hayek, Tom Hiddleston, Frank Langella, Ray Liotta, James McAvoy, Chloe Grace Moretz, Danny Trejo, Stanley Tucci & Christoph Waltz

In 2011, those lovable oddball puppets known as the Muppets appeared in the aptly titled THE MUPPETS. While I liked that film to a certain degree, it was a tad underwhelming and never really focused on what made the Muppets so successful to begin with. With MUPPETS MOST WANTED, the humans play side characters and the Muppets themselves take center stage for this caper-adventure-musical. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a great romp nonetheless!

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“The End” remains in the sky formed from fireworks at the closing of the last film. The cameras are still rolling. This obviously means that the studio wants a sequel (as Gonzo sings “at least until Tom Hanks does TOY STORY 4”). So the Muppets meet with a manager, named Dominic Badguy (pronounced Bad-gee), and sign up for a worldwide tour. Meanwhile, a criminal frog named Constantine escapes from a high-security prison in Russia. Kermit accidentally runs into him and Constantine cleverly switches places. Posing as the host of the Muppet show (and doing a bad voice impression of Kermit), Constantine is in cahoots with Badguy. Together they are pulling off a series of intricate heists and using the Muppet tour to avoid suspicion. With Kermit locked away in the Russian slammer, it’s up to a small group of Muppets to rescue Kermit, take down Constantine, and save the day!

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Though the opening musical number states that “sequels aren’t ever quite as good”, I found MUPPETS MOST WANTED to be a significant step up from the predecessor. Considering this is actually the eighth installment of their theatrical films, the Muppets haven’t lost their witty humor and still know how to win over a crowd. Keep your eyes peeled and you’ll spot a ton of celebrity cameos throughout. None of these are distracting. I’d dare say that some of them are nothing short of brilliant. One of which actually got a cheer from numerous people in my theater. The Muppets (though undeniably puppets) have a charming lifelike quality that is just as effective as the living people surrounding them. Certain humans stand out more than others. Ricky Gervais is clearly having a blast playing Badguy and provides a lot of solid laughs. The relationship between Ty Burrel’s Interpol agent and CIA agent Sam the Eagle that was my favorite part of the film. Those two cracked me up constantly and it was almost like the Muppets do a cop drama with the intended hilarious results.

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Some people have praised Tina Fey’s performance as the singing Russian prison officer. I actually didn’t like her character much and found her to be more annoying than anything else. The songs, while catchy in the context of the film, didn’t stick with me after I was done watching it (unlike other Muppet films). The running time of almost two hours long feels a tad stretched too. I never got bored, but I could feel that some scenes were going on a little longer than they needed to. It’s the one of same problems that 2011’s THE MUPPETS suffered from and I did enjoy MUPPETS MOST WANTED so much more than that initial let-down. These flaws take things down a notch, but it remains solid wholesome entertainment for the entire family.

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Though I did have some problems with the film, MUPPETS MOST WANTED is ultimately a cheerful upbeat tale that will delight both adults and children alike. The songs work in the film and it’s clear that all the stops were pulled out to treat this caper as a legitimate adventure…that just happens to have Muppets. MUPPETS MOST WANTED ranks just behind MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND (which still remains my favorite film starring this group of oddballs). The never-ending sense of humor and rapid fire pace of the jokes themselves (though the plot could have used a shorter running time) are both enough to warrant a solid recommendation. Welcome back, Muppets! You’ve been missed!

Grade: B

ABOUT TIME (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 3 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language and some Sexual Content

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Directed by: Richard Curtis

Written by: Richard Curtis

Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Lydia Wilson & Lindsay Duncan

ABOUT TIME is a charming romantic comedy with a science-fiction premise. There is something inherently charming and entertaining about the film, but it some problems bring it down significantly as a whole. Take into account that this could be the definition of a chick flick, which is what the advertising might lead many to believe. That description should pretty much tell you if this movie is suited towards your cinematic taste.

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Tim is an awkward, hopeless romantic. It is on the dawn of a bright new year that Tim’s father calls him into the study for a serious discussion, breaking a family secret to him. All of the males in Tim’s family can travel through time, but it can only be at one point in their past and there are a few complications. Tim is told to use it as he wishes to make his life the way he wants it to be. So when he spots Mary, it’s love at first sight between the two of them. Tim won’t let a relatively little thing like time stand in his way from winning her heart.

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That’s pretty much all I care to give away about the plot, because there are a few unexpected twists along the way. Ironically, it is here where the movie has some holes in it’s somewhat flimsy script. There’s something whimsical in ABOUT TIME and this is mostly brought out in the former half, when Tim is trying out his powers and using them to his advantage. When the movie takes a bit of a depressing turn as Tim tries to help those around him, it gets a bit complicated and points out some set-in-stone rules about the time travel. However, these rules are forgotten in the blink of an eye, when it’s convenient to forward the plot.

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This is where another problem with ABOUT TIME surfaces. As a film, it’s far too long. It feels like there could have been a good 20 or 30 minutes trimmed out and it would have made for a much tighter, far more enjoyable motion picture. Again, the first half of the film is the better half, because it was moving at a steady pace and had enough content in it to keep the viewer intrigued.

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Domhnall Gleeson (son of Brendan Gleeson) and Rachel McAdams are convincing enough as a young couple madly in love with each other. The stand out is Bill Nighy though, as Tim’s eccentric and loving father. The supporting characters are also more than just cardboard cutouts, including Tim’s nature-loving sister and a struggling foul-mouthed playwright roommate.

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If it weren’t for four F-bombs (one above the regulated three F-bomb PG-13 limit) and a picture of a topless woman that’s shown for one brief second, this movie would have been a PG-13 chick flick and currently be banking at the box office (the theater I saw it in had about seven patrons, including myself). If the film’s logic didn’t eat itself by the end of the film, then I’d feel comfortable saying that this could be a smart romance that should be a giant box office success. It’s not a bad movie by any means and shouldn’t be failing as hard as it currently is stateside.

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Finally, the film has an at-times blatantly manipulative soundtrack in both the song choice and music. This is more of a nitpick, but when the soundtrack is actually taking the viewer out of the film, it’s a problem. I can’t kick ABOUT TIME too hard though. It’s got a fair share of tender moments and the film never screws anything up beyond repair, but there are some annoying plot holes and the pacing lags in the latter half. It’s a sweet, charming bit of romance that tries to be smarter than your average chick flick. ABOUT TIME is a good date movie, but that’s about all it is. Take that as you will.

Grade: B-

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