Mission : Impossible – Rogue Nation  (2015)    72/100

Rating :   72/100                                                                     131 Min        12A

Great fun, and coming as the fifth instalment in the franchise (after ‘Mission : Impossible’ 96, ‘Mission : Impossible II’ 2000, ‘Mission : Impossible III’ 06 and ‘Mission : Impossible – Ghost Protocol’ 11) it perfectly mirrors the trademarks of its predecessors – fast pace and fantastic stunts with supporting characters that essentially just pass muster, and a take it or leave it story that exists to primarily facilitate the action. This time around Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) must do battle with an elite super-secret nefarious organisation hell bent on seemingly random acts of evil – a group so secret that even the CIA disbelieve its existence, forcing Hunt to go dark and avoid capture himself as the IMF (Impossible Mission Force) are annexed by the Agency at the bequest of its director (Alec Baldwin) who apparently also thinks it more likely Hunt himself may be to blame for the aforementioned acts of terror.

Cruise has well and truly outdone himself on the action front here. Always one to step up to the plate and perform his own stunts, this film will absolutely be remembered for the set-pieces involved, chief among them the opening scene which was well reported in the media prior to the film’s release but I shan’t ruin it in case you remain unawares, suffice to say they filmed the thing eight times with naught but a single wire used as safeguard for the film’s star, and given the nature of the stunt I wouldn’t exactly be keen to put all my trust in that solitary wire. Indeed, not long after this Cruise puts to shame everyone who’s ever been handcuffed to a vertical object in a film before, and numerous impressive displays of acrobatics are spread throughout the movie.

Accompanying Cruise’s showmanship as one of the main attractions is Rebecca Ferguson (‘Hercules‘) as a mysterious female member of the shadowy organisation who is nothing short of completely fantastic in the role, imbuing it with physical prowess, sex appeal and solid acting to boot. There are the perhaps to be expected parallels with the Bond franchise, ‘Skyfall‘ in particular, and indeed look out for the several nods to the earlier M.I. films, but this is a very strong, entertaining blockbuster in its own right and it would be surprising not to see the cast and crew return for a decidedly merited number six. Indeed, this is also the fourth collaboration between Cruise and the film’s writer/director Christopher McQuarrie after he directed ‘Jack Reacher‘ and worked on its screenplay, along with that of ‘Valkyire’ (08) and ‘Edge of Tomorrow‘. With Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Jeremy Renner, Sean Harris and Simon McBurney in support.

Tom Cruise chats about his infamous stunt (spoiler alert) :

Inside Out  (2015)    62/100

Rating :   62/100                                                                       94 Min        U

Disney Pixar’s latest is unsurprisingly ambitious and technically accomplished, but on this occasion they’ve overshot their own creative mark and landed a little too close to the dead zone of thematic ambiguity for comfort. The plot is theoretically about one family: father (Kyle MacLachlan), mother (Diane Lane) and young eleven-year-old girl Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) who relocate from Minnesota to San Francisco, causing Riley to suffer numerous quite natural insecurities and regrets as she waves goodbye to several friendships and a hallowed place on her ice hockey team.

In reality, the movie is focused on what’s going on inside Riley’s brain as we see Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Fear (Bill Hader) brought to life as individual entities at the helm, ‘Headquarters’, of Riley’s entire personality and normal function. Herein lies problem number one – an attempt to personify characters as representative of one distinct and solitary emotion but also as characters in their own right who must necessarily exhibit more of a range.

The whole motif behind the movie is that it’s OK to feel sad sometimes, as this can be a visual signal to others that we are in need of help. Sadness initially messes everything up before her place in the grand scheme of things becomes apparent, and as her chaotic influence sweeps throughout the labyrinthine corridors of Riley’s grey matter we watch as entire elements of the host’s personality are completely and irrevocably annihilated by mistake, whilst in the real world her life is equally devastated as a result. All of which has the effect of largely distancing Riley from being in any way in control of herself and her own state of being, which in turn is conceptually very alienating for an audience.

Similarly, there are a lot of very eerie goings-on; we see a large creepy clown lurking around in locked away memories, entire characters begin to fade into nothingness as Riley starts to forget them. Notwithstanding this, there are funny moments and the artwork involved is top-notch, as we’ve come to expect, just as the adventure the central personality profiles go in does more or less hold interest until the end. Still, the film’s premise hasn’t been satisfactorily fulfilled and The Red Dragon is by no means convinced this is a good film to be taking youngsters to go and see.

Southpaw  (2015)    63/100

Rating :   63/100                                                                     124 Min        15

Director Antoine Fuqua (‘The Equalizer‘, ‘Olympus Has Fallen‘, ‘King Arthur’ 04, ‘Training Day’ 01) tries his hand at the boxing genre but alas overcooks the melodrama and when considering the ultimate test of ‘does this film make me want to train?’, the answer is a disappointing ‘no’. Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, 50 Cent, Naomie Harris and Oona Laurence bring the action to life as successful light-heavyweight Billy Hope (Gyllenhaal) suffers personal tragedy, sending his life and career into free-fall and forcing him to fight to regain not just his financial status but his own peace of mind and the respect of his friends and family too.

Oddly enough, screenwriter Kurt Sutter, for whom this is his first feature film after working on ‘Sons of Anarchy’ and ‘The Shield’ for many years, has stated this is actually the metaphorical story of the latter half of Eminem’s life, somewhat following on from 2002’s ‘8 Mile’, and indeed the rapper was initially set to take on the lead role, with the notion of a southpaw (which means a boxer who puts the power behind the left instead of the normal right, although precious little is made of this element in the film itself) meant as a parallel for Eminem’s position as a white artist in a predominantly black industry. Yes, it’s a rubbish metaphor.

This goes some way to explain the numerous overindulgences, especially so with the heavy overuse of music throughout the movie (Eminem released the singles ‘Kings Never Die’ and ‘Phenomenal’ from the soundtrack) and whilst the performances are very solid throughout, especially so from Gyllenhaal and Laurence who plays Hope’s young daughter, the film never really manages to make you care all that much about any of the characters in the very basic, hackneyed and predictable story, though it remains watchable enough for what it is.

The film will also be remembered for presenting to the world the final completed score by legendary composer James Horner (‘Braveheart’ 95, ‘Titanic’ 97) who tragically died in a plane crash earlier this year and who apparently worked on Southpaw for free after seeing the film and loving the father-daughter relationship, even paying his crew from his own pocket. He had also secretly finished the music for Fuqua’s upcoming ‘Magnificent Seven’ (1960) remake (‘The 33’, a film about the 2010 Chilean mine collapse due to be released later this year, was also scored by Horner but he finished it before Southpaw) so it will be interesting to see how much of it makes it into the final edit, or indeed if Fuqua shoots parts of the film to specifically fit the music itself.

Hot Pursuit  (2015)    70/100

Rating :   70/100                                                                       87 Min        12A

Perhaps alarmingly, I quite enjoyed this. It’s a buddy film with two female leads in place of the usual male ones – indeed, most of the chatter surrounding its release has revolved around this element combined with its being helmed by a female director: Anne Fletcher (‘Step Up’ 06, ‘The Proposal’ 09). This combination of the sexes, earth shattering as it is, has seen several criticisms lain at some of the jokes, but in each instance there often equally appears to be a unique omittance that the screenplay was written by two men – David Feeney and John Quaintance. These socio-political elements aside, the story follows Reese Witherspoon’s extremely-by-the-book cop Cooper as she attempts to both protect Sofia Vergara’s Riva and to also make sure she testifies against a criminal heavyweight, as without her testimony the case is set to collapse.

The first third or so will probably make you want to kill yourself, but eventually the corny story is buried in the infectious fun the two leads are clearly having together and their chemistry alone gives the fairly run-of-the-mill comedy the lift it needed to actually generate some laughs. Indeed, I found myself sniggering away several moments after some of the jokes had been delivered, and any film that can do that and then finally send me away from the cinema in a good mood deserves some credit. Flawed to be sure, and by the end it has begun to peter out a little again, but very likeable and some lovely stealth laughs in there for those not too proud to admit it.

Maggie  (2015)    46/100

Rating :   46/100                                                                       95 Min        15

A bizarre film starring Abigail Breslin and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as her doting father, in a blight infested world that sees infected people turn into zombies. Nothing remotely original about the concept then, but here the focus is on the human and familial trauma of dealing with a loved one who has been infected, in this case Breslin’s character, as families are permitted to look after the inflicted up until a certain point whereafter the dreaded quarantine, from which there is no hope of return, must be enforced before they start eating the neighbour’s chickens and defecating blood and teeth all over the freshly cleaned kitchen floor.

Naturally, many wait a little too long before bringing themselves to say goodbye once and for all, and despite the abundant scope for allegory (especially in the wake of the most recent, and deadliest yet, Ebola outbreak – although hopes are high a dependable vaccine has now been engineered) the artfully shot drama about a father’s, ahem, undying love for his daughter suffers the irredeemable sin of simply being flat-out-dull throughout. It’s an awful long time before we hear any substantial dialogue to make us invest in the characters and despite being a zombie flick there is very, very little in the way of tension in any sense, never mind action or excitement. The principal acting is good, so too from Joely Richardson as the step-mum, but first time director Henry Hobson is no Terrence Malick and the well meaning cinematography, that comes in multiple shades of grey, does not unfortunately make any real substitute for the void that exists where pace and story ought to have been drawing the audience in.

The Legend of Barney Thomson  (2015)    55/100

Rating :   55/100                                                                       96 Min        15

A reasonably solid first attempt behind the camera (notwithstanding an episode of Stargate) for Robert Carlyle, but sadly one let down by a common fault within the black comedy genre – over reliance on a concept to be continually be amusing in its own right; much like filming squirrels going rogue and deciding to collect human nuts for the winter could be quite funny, but it may also become incredibly tedious watching the little critters continuously emasculate runners in the park (actually, I think this concept would work no matter how it was done). Here, Carlyle plays nondescript local Glasgow barber Barney Thomson (he only knows two different styles of cut, although this is already one more than most of the barbers in Scotland) who accrues a habit of accidentally killing people who would otherwise have been in a position to cause him significant hardship. Alas, he spends most of the film whining and stressing about it and we simply don’t care – it’s not a terribly amusing concept to begin with, better if he laughed manically every time it happened and then started to create scenarios that induced a high likelihood someone he doesn’t like might ‘accidentally’ bite it.

The film is based on the novel ‘The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson’ by Douglas Lindsay and there are a number of nice comedy moments but unfortunately the majority were spoiled for us by the trailer, and whilst Emma Thompson as Barny’s mum and both Ray Winstone and Ashley Jensen as the cops investigating the murders all give really strong performances, everything just becomes increasingly humdrum as the film progresses, the story continually bogged down by the protagonist’s lugubrious outlook and demeanour turning everything as stale and depressing as indeed the choice of cinematography, with its hazzy late-fifties vibe, had always been suggesting we could expect throughout. With Tom Courtenay, James Cosmo and Martin Compston in support.