On DVD & Blu-Ray: December 15, 2015

Within the first minute of the latest Mission: Impossible film, Tom Cruise is sprinting across the screen. Within the first two minutes, Tom Cruise is walking across the top of an airplane. By the time one hundred and twenty five minutes have passed Tom Cruise has done so many unbelievable things and taken so many insane chances as Ethan Hunt that it's a wonder he's alive and ready to go on any more missions at all (is that a spoiler? Please). Currently, Tom Cruise is a mere four years younger than Jon Voight was when the first Mission: Impossible was released almost twenty years ago. Cruise realizes his time as international super spy and man of mystery is running out. Cruise knows his body won't be able to continue doing outlandish stunt work forever and he knows that the time is coming where watching him run, jump and shoot would be more funny than thrilling were he still to be relying on this franchise into his sixties. Cruise has maybe two more Mission films left in him and that's if they're more prompt than they've ever been with these movies. This perspective isn't brought up to be a downer or to make audiences more aware of the fragility of time, but simply to say that we won't always have the opportunity to walk into our multiplex and see a Tom Cruise action picture. Cherish this. That Cruise himself clearly pours so much effort and heart into making these movies and that he continues to choose directors who want to make them as authentically as possible while bringing their own unique style to the proceedings is also reason to be appreciative. While there have been, are, and always will be movie franchises similar to Mission: Impossible, what makes Ethan Hunt different from James Bond or even Jason Bourne is his ability to grow. Hunt is wholly Cruise's character whereas Bond has a roster of representatives and Bourne has to deal with not really knowing who he is himself. Hunt, through the arc of Cruise needing this franchise just as much as it needs him, has come to represent our most intimate connection with Cruise, the actor, given it's the only character he's portrayed more than once. Under these circumstances, Hunt's arc from young upstart agent to desperate family man eager to escape his fate to a man who's now accepted what he's meant to be only makes each new installment all the more interesting-and Rogue Nation is no exception. Full review here. B+

What works in Ted 2 is what made the first film a runaway smash and that is the undeniable chemistry between Mark Wahlberg and the titular potty mouthed bear voiced by writer and director Seth MacFarlane. What doesn't work about this unnecessary but warranted sequel are coincidentally the same thing that didn't work the first time-the dispensable subplot involving Giovanni Ribisi's character. Don't get me wrong, I think Ribisi is an interesting actor and the weird, off the wall stuff he does in these movies is not what makes his part bad, but more they simply feel tacked on and only present to create some kind of conventional plot that allows our heroes to overcome some kind of danger so that we get a happy ending. The thing is, MacFarlane has enough of a conflict on his hands here that Ribisi's subplot is even more extraneous than it was in the first film. The same can be said for many of the jokes in the film in that they are largely superfluous. No matter how funny they might be the majority of them don't pertain to the story in any fashion. In fact, Ted 2 feels less like a real movie and more like a series of scenarios MacFarlane thought might be funny to see these characters in that are strung together by the overriding quest to prove Ted is a person. As a result of this series of one-note jokes (and others that are revisited more times than necessary) the script feels patched together with the biggest example being the comic-con set finale that seems to only serve as the backdrop so that MacFarlane can make as many pop culture references as his heart desires. This, for me, is a double edged sword as I appreciate the references to a degree (I laughed at Patrick Warburton showing up dressed as The Tick more than anything else in the movie) in that I enjoy a rough around the edges R-rated comedy that has a flair for pop culture awareness and lampooning such culture, but the over-reliance on these jokes for its source of comedy makes it obvious there is little care taken to evoke jokes from the actual story and therefore makes the story feel less important. In the end, Ted 2 is a movie that I laughed at quite frequently, but could have just as easily done without being as I saw the first one and this sequel (especially by the third act) ends up feeling like a complete retread of the original. Full review here. C

Origin stories have become something of such trite exercises that when we are given something slightly different we're not sure what to do with it. That isn't to say director Josh Trank's (Chronicle) approach to his Fantastic Four reboot is necessarily a strong or even distinct one, but it is something. It certainly isn't what people would necessarily want or expect given this film is more of a prelude than anything else, but there is much to appreciate. At a brisk hour and forty minutes I like that Trank's Fantastic Four doesn't take itself too seriously while consistently trying to remain as logical as possible. There is a sense of experimentation to the proceedings, a sense that tells us even the makers of the movie don't necessarily place too much importance on the going-ons of the plot, but are instead more interested in putting a few players on a certain kind of board and seeing what works and what doesn't. In coming at Marvel's first family of superheroes in this fashion it is obvious that Trank and his uber-talented and charismatic cast aren't actively trying to make something bad or even obligatory, but rather it's fairly clear they want the opposite. Things may not have turned out as well as they'd hoped in this initial run, but I have a sincere hope they get another shot to work out the kinks and to test their experiment again given it will contain more of the elements audiences want/expect from their superhero movies. I'm not going to completely trash Fantastic Four for trying to do something different with a story we saw on screen ten years ago. This is a story the board at 20th Century Fox likely insisted on Trank and screenwriter Simon Kinberg (X-Men: Days of Future Past) telling purely for the sake of retaining their rights to the characters and no doubt interlocking with their X-Men franchise at some point down the road. And I'm not looking for anyone to blame for the shortcomings of the final product because while there certainly could have been a more clear, precise vision for the film I kind of dug what we have here in terms of tone and character dynamic and only hope they have a chance to develop each further. Full review here. C

I was pleasantly surprised by 2014's The Maze Runner, but was away at the Toronto International Film Festival this year when it's sequel, The Scorch Trials, was released in theaters. as I didn't catch up with the film on my return I definitely plan on doing so over the holidays at some point despite this second installments dwindling reviews and box office. I'm still optimistic and given I haven't read the books am anxious to see where James Dashner's story takes us.

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