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‘Spectre’: Latest Bond Battles Classic Roots

Spectres certainly haunted 007’s latest film, which premieres this weekend in the United States.

A chilling epigraph, “The Dead Are Alive,” hinted at ghosts from Bond’s past returning to haunt him. But before we got there, the camera followed a skull-masked James Bond (Daniel Craig) through a seamless shot in the festive streets of Mexico City as revelers celebrated Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead).

The latest installment of the iconic 24-part series reintroduced SPECTRE–Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion–a criminal organization last seen in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. There’s also MI6’s dull subplot with “C” (Andrew Scott, Sherlock), whose antagonistic intent to technologically modernize British intelligence eventually tied in with the main storyline. Apparently GCHQ isn’t tech-savy enough.

Bond’s latest mission was assigned via a recorded message left by his late boss, “M” (Judi Dench), who died in the previous film, Skyfall (2012). There are also villains and family alike who crept out of the darkness of Bond’s past.

Since there’s not much else we can learn about Bond (this is the 24th film for Pete’s sake), the villains are often the most interesting characters, as is the case with Franz Oberhauser (Christopher Waltz, Inglorious Basterds, Big Eyes). Comparing himself to a meteorite building momentum, Oberhauser was introduced as a silent, unstable, and ultimately interesting shadow in Bond’s life, but the man behind the terrorist group was disappointingly absent for a large portion of the movie. Oberhauser ended up in the role of the classic evil mastermind, complete with his right-hand white cat, mostly inactive in hunting Bond. For a criminal mastermind, he was a bit of a letdown compared to the disturbing insanity of Skyfall’s Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) or the testicle-torturing cruelty of Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen).

The inevitable showdown between Oberhauser and Bond concluded with two very predictable and unsatisfying climaxes.

But it was the spirit of the classic James Bond who truly plagued Spectre’s risqué romance and adrenaline-fueled action.

Helicopters flipping violently over Mexico City, flashy sport cars racing through historic Rome, and wingless planes skiing down snowy Austrian Alps, all played to a hair-raising soundtrack and edge-of-your-seat action sequences. Simultaneously, Bond’s famed pulse-pounding action has reached a point where we know exactly what to expect. There’s little to no surprise anymore (sigh). When the music heightened, we’re prepared for a dramatic climax to the fighting. Even Bond, tired of brawling, at one point warned an incapacitated security guard to “stay!” grounded instead of getting his arse kicked again.

Ass kicking wasn’t the only booty Bond got, of course. Bond girls, somewhat shamefully, have been iconized based on the size of their breasts and thinness of their waistline. In Spectre, that tradition continued. Weirdly, Bond pressed a grieving widow (whose husband he killed) against a mirror, whispered in her ear, and tingled her arms with the tips of his fingers, and somehow scored a night beneath her bed sheets. Some things will never change.

The main love interest was the mistrusting damsel-in-distress Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux, Inglorious Basterds, The Grand Budapest Hotel), who kept Bond at arms length for less than 30 minutes until he proved his romantic value by tossing assassin Mr. Hinx (WWE’s Dave Bautista) out of a high-speed train.

“What do we do now?” her accented voice purred.

The two then burst through a bathroom door, lips locked, and their hands clawing each other’s clothes off. It was ridiculous, but you appreciated the spontaneous sex more when Madeleine whispered, “I love you!” to a wounded Bond 24 hours later, as well as to the eye roll of (hopefully all) viewers. Bond’s mutual feelings felt like it was meant to be more central to the plot, as expressed in the opening credits theme, “Writing On The Wall.” A chilling rhythm and Sam Smith’s beautiful falsetto touched on the absolutism of Bond’s love-or-death relationship with Madeline.

But their love never felt absolute. Madeline’s romance was abrupt, disjointed, and unnatural compared to the reality of love and relationships, justified in Spectre only by classic Bond’s embodiment as the ultimate male fantasy. It’s almost as if the hilarity of the scenario was intentional, a wink to classic Bond’s seductive ways, but it’s not even funny. Spectre barely highlighted and explored any personal fragility or vulnerability beneath Bond’s masculine armor.

This all came as a disappointing endnote considering Daniel Craig, the sixth 007 in the series–preceded by Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan–recently discussed the possibility of resigning after ten years and four films of playing the tuxedo-clan gentlemen.

“It’s been an amazing ride doing [Spectre] and we’ve had incredible fun and it’s been a lot of hard work,” Craig said in an interview. “But it has taken up all of my life these two years. So, maybe a little of my life back would be nice.”

The 24th Bond film’s weakness was its past. Spectre retreated to the comfort of author Ian Fleming’s source material. Director Sam Mendes’ second 007 film sacrificed creatively modernizing and innovating Bond again for predictable action thrills and fantastical romance.

(Photo credit: James Bond/Spectre – Facebook)

‘Ash vs. Evil Dead’: TV Adaptation Revives Horror Classic

Ash is back. (Photo credit: Starz/Facebook)

Fans of the horror classic Evil Dead were rewarded the biggest treat of them all Halloween night when Starz premiered Ash vs Evil Dead, a 10-episode revival of the ’80s cult film that made it cool to appreciate the undearly departed long before the arrival of The Walking Dead and similarly themed projects jumped on board the zombie-fright bandwagon.

For Evil Dead loyalists, it was the perfect night cap, one that offered a nostalgic trip to the gory past and a bloody feast to feed our ever-present primal urges.

One-handed Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) returned to the revived horror series the same way many long-time fans probably did: much older and out of shape. And he had a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time.

Campbell produced this reboot after years of sequel rumors had kept the cult-followers’ cinematic hopes alive. This new television adaption takes place 30 years after Ash Williams had last battled the bad ones. Viewers unfamiliar with Evil Dead, originally written and directed by Sam Raimi, may recognize Campbell from USA’s more recent hit drama Burn Notice. For Campbell’s role as producer, finding Starz–a network tolerant of carnage and mayhem–may not have been as challenging artistically as recapping a 23-year-old plot to the uninitiated. Campbell had to bridge the gap separating the first three installments–The Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead II (1987), and The Army of Darkness (1992)–and keep those fans satisfied while hoping to snare new ones to the cause.

The last time Ash kicked undead butt, he found himself trapped in 1300 A.D. and drank a magic potion to sleep for thousands of years until he could return home to the present. Or, if you prefer the alternate ending, Ash overslept for thousands of years and awoke in a post-apocalyptic future. Neither ending has much relevance to the current series. While Ash’s waistline has widened, not much else has changed.

In this version, the time-traveling hero sets out for his annual survival celebration by “getting blackout drunk” and shagging trashy women in foul bar bathrooms. Later, equally intoxicated, he attempts to impress one particularly poetry-crazy lady by reciting incantations from the Sumerian Book of the Dead, and by doing so, Ash unwittingly summons the living dead—all while he is totally stoned out of his mind and his long-term memory of ancient texts is still intact.

As you can probably tell, Ash vs. Evil Dead doesn’t take itself too seriously, and acknowledges itself for what it is: a horror comedy.

In one moment Ash may battle the strangling hands of a demonic baby doll and in another he’s tossed around effortlessly by a possessed old lady. Ash is also locked and loaded with such one-liners as: “They’re coming in all right, and it ain’t for Shabbat dinner.” To top that off, as Ash dives through the air, he fastens a chainsaw to his outstretched stump of a hand—hacked off during the first movie, for those who don’t know the sad tale–and beheads that same possessed old lady.

Watching the headless corpse twitch and jerk after the blood-soaked blades of Ash’s chainsaw have cut her to the quick, few words come to mind.

Ash summarizes it thusly: “Groovy.”

Sure, it’s silly, but who’d argue with Ash? For what it’s worth, the new series brings an unexpected deeper focus on his character. We got to know him better—an irresponsible loser driving a run-down car back and forth from his bullet-shaped silver trailer house to his dead-end job as a stock boy. Ash has nothing going for him, so the first episode is about Ash embracing the chainsaw-wielding demon-slayer he once was, which happens rather quickly in this fast-paced bloodbath.

The action and comedy are supported by Ash’s coworkers: the awkward “nobody” Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo), who want to find out why her deceased mom is back from the grave. Other character intros are left unexplained for now, such as demon-survivor deputy sheriff Amanda Fisher (Jill Marie Jones) or the mysterious Ruby (Lucy Lawless, Xena: Warrior Princess), but we’ve got many more gory episodes to go before everything unfolds–20 in all, if you count Starz’s green light for a second season.

Ash vs. Evil Dead is pretty straightforward: demons, action and laughs. With so many film-to-television adaptions (Minority Report, Limitless, Fargo), Ash vs. Evil Dead’s long-awaited return will not disappoint audiences already “terrorized” by dead-centric shows like The Walking Dead. This first episode boasts a reborn Ash doing what he does best with a chainsaw, and viewers can expect more awesome Saturday nights filled with slashing blood-fests like this one.

(Photo credit: Starz/Facebook)

New ‘Wicked City’ Thriller About a Serial Killer Gets Lost in the Dark in ’80s L.A.

Set in 1982 L.A., with the classic melody of Foreigner’s “Feels Like the First Time” throbbing on the soundtrack, a nameless girl inside a car parked in the Hollywood Hills is bobbing between the thighs of an unimpressed Kent Grainger (Ed Westwick) just before he plunges a knife into the back of her head.

It turns out that Kent’s also a serial killer and a necrophiliac. But he does have a softer side—he likes babies.

The opening minutes of Wicked City’s premiere Tuesday night mostly encapsulated the gist of ABC’s newest and boldest show: sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, and, evidently, death.

“That’s right, folks,” said a local news anchor character early on. “Another day, another corpse in the murder capital of the country.”

It was a warning there’d be more clichés to follow. While the anchor mentioned above referred to killings in ‘80s L.A. as routine, the same could be argued of modern-day America in general.

Audiences today are numb—desensitized, some claim—to the oversaturation of dismembered corpses, blood-streaked walls, and “shocking” crime scenes lit in the flashing bulbs of the paparazzi, all of which appeared in the first 30 minutes of Wicked City. Differentiating among all these competing crime dramas may be more difficult than identifying a dumped body. This was Wicked City’s true killer: unoriginality.

Beneath his charm and prickly stubble, we discover that Kent has child abandonment/mommy issues. Stabbing unsuspecting women trying to please him is one thing, but apparently he draws the line at killing a nurse named Betty Beaumontaine (Erika Christensen) because she’s a single mom. The plotline’s reprieve ignores the likelihood that he’s probably already murdered lonely single moms before without knowing or caring about their back story.

Conveniently, Betty is also a little cuckoo. This insight is revealed when she crushes a spider in her hand, away from the eyes of her impressionable children. The moment left me wondering if I could be a serial killer, too, because I also kill bugs when they come into my house, but at least I feel guilty about it. Betty hones her sadistic ways on duty in the hospital when she yanks stitches out of an old man after stabbing him with a needle.

Maybe Kent knew Betty had that side to her, just waiting to develop under his tender care. His sparing her sparks the beginning of a whacky and disturbing romance. It’s too early to tell where this pair will go. They are reminiscent of a Bonny-and-Clyde-like duo, but that comparison—referenced constantly by ABC’s marketing campaign—creates concern that this psychotic couple will not stray far enough from the source material to make watching their exploits compelling.

On the flip side of Wicked City, we meet “good cop” Jack Roth (Jeremy Sisto). He bickers with his undesirable-sidekick Paco Conteras (Gabriel Luna) each and every step of the way, making this crime procedural a grueling process. Jack is hell-bent on taking down the famed “Hillside Strangler” (no, not Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono), but the closest the detective gets to Kent in the season premiere is an accidental shoulder-brush in a cramped nightclub on Sunset Strip, making this “cat and mouse” storyline explicit for any viewers who somehow may have missed it.

While Wicked City airs late at 10 p.m., presumably after the kids are in bed, it is a risky step for Disney-owned ABC Family channel, considering their usual fare. Featuring disturbing adult-oriented content like this may be an early sign of what’s to come when the network changes its name in January to Freeform, with the goal of attracting a wider audience in the coveted 18-34 demographic.

The show is being promoted as a 10-episode anthology series, similar to American Horror Story or True Detective, which means the next season—if Wicked City even lasts that long and let’s hope it doesn’t—would jump to a different time slot. But it means 10 episodes of serial-killer-and-tortured-cop clichés, people yelling “bitchin’!” as an adjective, an overabundance of cocaine and way too much hairspray, accompanied by an ’80s soundtrack of Soft Cell, Iggy Pop and Joan Jett. Wicked City might be worth a binge-watch on Netflix, but definitely not a long-term committed relationship.

‘Supergirl’, Superwoman, or Neither?

Supergirl premieres Oct. 26 on CBS.

Midway through the Supergirl premiere Monday night, a waitress voices what CBS hoped would be parents’ thoughts on the debut of Superman’s Kryptonian cousin.

“Nice to have someone like that for my daughter to look up to,” the character says.

She’s actually a wonderful role model for any child, and that about wraps up CBS’ goal with Supergirl: a smart, strong, successful, and overall independent female superhero with a feminist message who can lift the ratings up, up and away.

Instead, Supergirl’s suppressed superpowers are an awkward metaphor for her modern-day oppression as a woman–a ditzy girl concerned with what clothes to wear for a blind date or barely juggling her secretarial duties instead of unleashing her inner “powers”–liberated through a pilot episode alarmingly identical to Saturday Night Live’s satirical trailer for a Black Widow movie, which criticized lead women’s portrayals in Hollywood.

After Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist), whose birth name is Kara Zor-El, effortlessly launches herself into the night sky for the first time in nine years and, of course, saved the day, the episode produces what were actually some strong moments.

In one scene, the 24-year-old “Supergirl” debates with her stubborn boss, Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), about the difference between being labeled a girl or a woman. Another scene also shares a nod to long-time comic book fans, combining and modernizing 57 years of Supergirl’s many impractical and sexualized outfits.

Even the villain of the week, a fusion of DC Comics characters Vartox and Lumberjack (Owain Yeoman), descends from a planet where “females bow before males.” Supergirl overpowers the escaped alien convict using the lame and overused overcome-any-obstacle gimmick of self-confidence, but the literal defeat of a monster male supremacist seems blatant and uncreative. Especially when the now supposed strong, independent woman constantly paralleled the Man of Steel himself.

Aside from a brief glimpse of his blue-sleeved arm and flapping red cape at the beginning of the episode, Superman did not and will not appear in Supergirl completely, but his heroic influence no doubt exists. Wearing unnecessary black-rimmed glasses at her newspaper office and, according to one character, debuting her superpowers exactly like Superman by rescuing a plummeting plane, X-ray vision was not necessary to spot the pilot episode’s reliance on the classic superhero. Some characters could not even finish a conversation with Supergirl without connecting her to Superman.

“Anyone ever tell you that you look a little like him right there?” ex-Daily Planet photographer James Olsen (Mechad Brooks) said, vaguely waving his hand at Supergirl’s face, confirming she actually didn’t resemble Superman at all.

Borrowing from and associating with Superman’s story seems contradictory and counterproductive. Ultimately it just differentiates Supergirl very little beyond an unoriginal female Superman. In a strange way, Supergirl relies a lot on a man just to prove herself to viewers.

The show knows what it wants to say, but much like the main character, the pilot episode lacks any confidence in itself, failing to support its progressive message with assertion and capitalize on the opportunity to truly transform Supergirl into something more and drive its positive message home.

In short, random waitress character, there are better heroines your daughter can look up to, and they don’t even fly.

‘The Martian’ Blasts Off In The Name Of Science

The Martian
'The Martian' premieres in theaters this weekend. (Photo credit: Facebook/The Martian)

Moviegoers this week touched down on Mars, got swept up in the planet’s fierce storms, and awoke impaled and stranded on the desolate and yet stunning landscape of reddish dust. Earthling audiences were fine, of course—comfortably munching on popcorn and snacks and guzzling down sodas—while Mark Watney (Matt Damon) suffered starvation, dehydration, and the wrath of space in Director Ridley Scott’s The Martian.

“Fuck you, Mars” the main character summed up perfectly. Four years until Earth can rescue Watney, the main character concluded that he needed to grow food and water on a planet where nothing grows, establish contact with Earth, and ultimately, “science the shit out of this.”

And he did.

Not only was Mark Watney sarcastic, he was also a botanist, mechanical engineer, and astronaut and put any accomplishments in our own lives to shame. Add Mars-grown potatoes using his own waste for fertilizer, burning hydrazine to produce water, and recovering abandoned NASA tech from 1997 to relay messages to Earth, all after being impaled by an antenna.

Again, Watney said it best: “In your face, Neil Armstrong!”

But that’s only half the battle. The story jumped 140 million miles to Earth, where NASA and scientists worldwide—most notably China (see, America? They’re not so bad)—struggled through years of logistics, company procedurals, protocols, and red tape in order to rescue Watney. Except for one 25-minute scene solely grounded on Earth toward the end of the film, the details of the rescue operation do not anchor the story down. All the brainpower of Earth’s inhabitants working together to save one man was remarkable and resonated on a deeper, unifying level.

There’s also Watney’s crew—led by guilt-stricken Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain)—who believed Watney was dead, but for the most part, the attention orbited around the Martian himself.

Matt Damon’s performance was out of this world, literally. Despite the powerful realization that his character mostly talked to himself for four years, Damon surprised with a rather optimistic perspective supported by deadpan wit. Damon fueled this galactic voyage. When he cried, you cried. When the watching world cheered, you cheered. You really felt for Mark Watney right up to the creative, visually stunning, and science-riffic climax. Indeed, the real hero of this film was science.

Yes, science—the sinister subject who conspired with math to traumatize our academic years. Who knew it could save lives? Continuing the trend carried by 2013’s Gravity and 2014’s Interstellar, a cast, by the way, that included Damon and Chastain, there was a scientific basis for the film, but The Martian, based on the popular novel of the same name, also painstakingly simplified explanations for us mere mortals—staplers representing spaceships and NASA Director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) reluctantly pretending to be Earth in demonstrations. There’s a charm to these explanations, but some viewers—or maybe just me—just need to nod, pretend to understand, and go with it.

The film also emphasized and validated Mars’ real-life eventual in-habitability through Watney’s scientific feats (growing potatoes, making water, etc.). As cool as living on Mars appeared, problems still arose—hurricane-like winds, explosions, and an airlock breach. Humanity still has a long way go but provided the exact circumstances as Mark Watney, the possibility exists. And no one appears more excited than NASA, which reportedly “loved the adaptation of the screenplay,” according to Ridley Scott.

“They thought it was fun and mostly accurate,” Scott said, according to Yahoo News. “When I showed them the film, 40 guys saw it in Washington from NASA, and one muttered, ‘Maybe this will help us with reprogramming and the refinancing [of the U.S. space program].’ I mean, he was partly joking, but that was very nice.” The movie’s debut comes less than a week after NASA announced that water flows on Mars.

So, maybe it’s time to start buying some real estate on the Red Planet.

In the meantime, until we do colonize Mars, humanity can take one small step forward to the movie theater this weekend to rescue Matt Damon and see The Martian.

The Late Show With (The Real) Stephen Colbert Debuts

Stephen Colbert, right, interviews George Clooney, left (CBS).

At 11:35 p.m. Tuesday on CBS, in a recently remodeled Ed Sullivan Theater, a rambunctious audience rallied a chant not shouted since December.

“STEPHEN! STEPHEN! STEPHEN!”

It’s the rallying cry of a nation – the Colbert Nation, specifically. The nation’s leader, dressed in a blue suit and polka dot tie, ex-Colbert Report host and famed TV personality Stephen Colbert returned to the silver screen on his new gig, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

“With this show, I begin to search for the real Stephen Colbert,” he said in a standard opening monologue. “I just hope I don’t find him on Ashley Madison.”

It’s that same kind of goofiness everyone missed that added to a night – a day, really – audiences won’t soon forget.

Earlier on Tuesday, before the show’s daytime New York City-themed opening credits rolled, random pedestrians were handed free celebratory Col’ Brews – a custom cold-brewed coffee featuring Colbert’s face. This was a clever and friendly tactic of CBS, determined to herd all eyes to the premiere, even if that meant caffeinating everyone past their bedtimes.

If the coffee failed, The Late Show’s new band, Stay Human, kept the energy alive each segment. Bandleader John Batiste paraded, sang and clapped around the set playing a piano with his signature melodica to catchy beats that he labeled as “social music.” It really was just that. The mix of jazz, soul and R&B was friendly, spirited and well received by the audience. Performing “Everyday People” – a song by Sly and the Family Stone known for its message of social equality and acceptance – was a curious choice, too.

After the opening monologue, the show transitioned to the now iconic image of Colbert behind a desk. His new late-night desk, that is, which Colbert assured everyone was, “carved out of a single piece of desk.”

George Clooney was first to sit opposite Colbert. Celebrity interviews are typical of talk shows, and learning about the actor’s recent marriage and under-appreciated Darfur activism was interesting, but Jeb Bush’s appearance stole the attention. Not because anyone was particularly excited to see the Republican presidential candidate, but rather to witness Colbert’s post-Report approach to politics at his new home at CBS. We knew Colbert would drop the conservative act he presented on Comedy Central, but when he compared watching Donald Trump to the guilty pleasure of gorging on Oreos, Colbert seemed to suggest that he and politics are inseparable.

The conversation with Jeb was nowhere near as aggressive as it would have been on The Colbert Report. Not as aggressive but not merciful, either.

“Could you take a moment to tell the American people why you want to be president of the United States?” he asked.

“Do you think you could bring people together?” Colbert pressed. “Because everyone says they want to bring people together, but when you get down to the campaigning or get down to what passes for governing, it often ends up being just a game of blood sport. And the other side can’t possibly do, say, or plan for anything good.”

“Without in any way diminishing your love for your brother, in what ways do you politically differ from your brother George [W. Bush]?”

Absent of sarcasm (okay, maybe that last question was a little sarcastic) and no insults to the conservative Republican’s intelligence or logic, the questions were serious but sincere, and rightfully so for a presidential runner. And that’s the extent of Colbert’s new interview approach: occasional humor minus a political agenda. The Late Show’s Youtube channel also uploaded a deleted clip of Jeb’s response to gun control.

Jeb Bush provided some lengthy and arguably generalized and vague answers, even (sort of) complimented Obama at one point, but there was a mutual respect between Jeb and Colbert. No heated debates, no tension. Just two differing individuals, and Jeb mirrored the benevolence.

“I’m just here to see you,” he said, “and I think that’s why everyone else is here.” And the audience agreed.

Colbert tried to fight the reality, of course. “He’s the guest, not me!”

In a sense, Colbert was a guest. Maybe to no one’s surprise, the real man of the hour was none other than the host himself.

“Who is the real Stephen Colbert?” was the generalized media gossip that mystified Colbert after retiring his right-wing persona.

Evidently, the man partially responsible for turning young heads to politics is – and always was – just a guy trying to make you laugh. The kind of guy who plasters his smiling face on bottles, promotes fake movie clips for celebrities, and playfully trolls politicians. Colbert genuinely wants to entertain while integrating his political beliefs into his nightly program, and that’s the most significant and unique aspect he’ll use to compete with his fellow late-night hosts in the years to come.

The curtains closed 12 minutes after the show’s normal end time of 12:37 a.m. with a level of audience enthusiasm matched only by The Colbert Report and, in hindsight, Stephen Colbert’s entire career.

11 Questions With Allman Brothers Guitarist Warren Haynes

Warren Haynes
Legendary Allman Brothers guitarist Warren Haynes rocks The Space at Westbury on Oct. 7!

Celebrating his latest studio album, Ashes and Dust featuring the newgrass jam band Railroad Earth, revered guitarist Warren Haynes is playing at The Space at Westbury on Oct. 7. The Grammy Award-winning vocalist-songwriter has a decades-long career jamming alongside The Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule, and The Dead. The Press had the pleasure of speaking with Warren before his big night.

Long Island Press: You grew up in Asheville, North Carolina. How did that influence your career?

Warren Haynes: When I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, music in your region made a much larger impression than today. Now, musicians all over the world can discover getting music from anywhere in any genre quite easily due to the technology. But when I was a kid, a lot of the local and regional music helped shape the local musicians. We all learned from each other, we all learned from the local scene, and were exposed to different types of music. Ashes and Dust’s music was very influenced by what I heard when I was really young. Growing up in the mountains of North Carolina, there was a lot of folk music and Appalachian music that I was exposed to from the time that I was probably six or seven years old.

LIP: Was the guitar your main influence?

WH: I sang long before I started playing guitar. I was seven or eight. The folk music and Appalachian music that I was hearing was mostly in the background and coming from my dad. As kids, you rebel against your parents’ music. Along with my two older brothers, I was listening to soul music. James Brown, The Temptations. I’d also hear The Beatles in the background due to my older brothers.

LIP: What got you interested in guitar?

WH: It wasn’t until I discovered Rock and Roll music that I really wanted to play guitar. That was quite a few years later. It was all so overwhelming. It was such a great time period to discover guitar-influenced music. Hearing Jimi Hendrix and Cream and Johnny Winter were my first three introductions into that world. The first song that I remember making a big impression on me was “Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel. I was probably five years old. I heard it on the radio. While I was way too young to understand what the lyrics were about, just the sound of it spooked me and made me wonder what the hell was going on. I think [‘Sound of Silence’] is a masterpiece.

LIP: Are there any songs from Ashes and Dust that you’re particularly proud of?

WH: I love every song on there. I can allude to the fact that the song “Company Men” is about my father. So, in a different sort of way, I’m very proud of that.

LIP: If you could require the president to hear one song, which one would it be?

WH: I would say, “Hallelujah Boulevard.” It has several messages that would probably be good for anybody in power.

LIP: If you could get any musician or band, living or dead, who would be in your “dream band?”

WH: There are so many musicians who have passed away that would be wonderful to have the experience of playing with. People like John Bonham on drums, Jaco Pastorius on base, Wes Montgomery or Jimi Hendrix for guitar, [John] Coltrane, Miles Davis, Bob Marley. I’m kind of easing myself out of the picture here. That just gives me a band that I can sit and listen to.

LIP: If your life didn’t turn out the way it did, do you think you still would have pushed for a musical career?

WH: I grew up in a time period when the mindset of being a musician was a lifelong process. You didn’t try it for a while and if doesn’t work out you try something else. A lot of people were forced to go into other lines of work because they had families. That didn’t make them stop being musicians, it just made them not rely on the music business to make a living. I think when you decide to be a musician you’re a musician for life. In recent years, I’ve never felt like I would advise people to get into the music business unless they’re completely obsessed with it and they know that’s what they want to do for the rest of their lives. Music is so rewarding if you just experience it in a non-professional way. It’s amazing. Putting the pressure on yourself to have to make a living that way is a hard way to go. I’ve been lucky, but I’ve also made a lot of sacrifices and had a lot of years of struggle. It’s not something that comes about easily.

LIP: Everybody’s going to be adding Ashes and Dust to their home collection. Who’s in your home collection? Too many to count?

WH: I mean, thousands and thousands. I grew up with two older brothers that were not only avid music lovers with great taste in music, but collectors in their own way, especially one of my brothers. He had thousands of vinyl records when we were growing up and eventually opened up his own record store for like 25 years. There was so much music for me to choose from at any time. Pretty much any genre of music I could discover. It was like growing up in a library.

LIP: What is your favorite album by another artist?

WH: My favorite jazz album is Something Else by Cannonball Adderley. There’s also a Willie Dixon two CD box set that came out on Chess Records, where it’s all the great blues artists preforming Willie Dixon songs. That’s an amazing thing to have in your collection.

LIP: How do you feel about censorship in music?

WH: I don’t really care for the most part. I think sometimes having it unnecessarily included is just a cheap way just to garner attention in music. But there are times when what you’re trying to say requires profanity. People don’t have to listen to your music. Make it how you want to make it.

LIP: What’s next after Ashes and Dust?

WH: Maybe the next Gov’t Mule record. I’m also working on a follow up to Ashes and Dust. We’ll see which comes next.

TV Fall Schedule: Fresh, Hot & What’s Not

The-Squawk-Box

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he sun is setting earlier, Long Islanders are scrambling to feel the sand in their toes one last time time (stay away from the Alligator Snapping Turtle), and kids have officially succumbed to the inevitable pre-Labor Day state of depression that envelopes youngsters who have been in perpetual bliss since the end of June. The glorious summer of ’15 is practically a thing of the past. But things aren’t as bleak as they seem, dear readers. That’s because the megalomaniac executives from TV networks who annually dictate our TV viewing habits depending on how much our selfless corporate overlords are willing to spend in advertising fees are here to save us. We humbly accept their gracious offering. Yes, the fall TV schedule is around the corner, which means hit-or-miss newbies will debut, old favorites return, and audiences continue their stressful tolerance of cliffhangers (thank you Neflix—and Amazon—for saving us the misery of waiting a week). Forget about those gross soggy leaf piles! Organize those snacks and scrunch up on the couch. Here’s a list of small-screen candidates to strain those eyes. (And while we’re at it, thank you “Mr. Robot” for saving our summer.)

Fear the Walking Dead – Sunday, August 23, 9 p.m., AMC

The inevitable spinoff leads fall’s TV lineup with a zombie-like lumber. Hardcore fans reacquainted themselves to the same outbreak but in L.A. Though the zombie trend mostly died out, “Walking Dead” prevailed as a figurehead and it’s likely the spinoff will survive the hordes of critics, too. “Fear the Walking Dead” scored the largest rating for a cable premiere in history.

Hand of God – Friday, September 4, Amazon Instant Video

The show follows grieving judge-turned-vigilante Pernell Harris (Ron Perlman), who believes his actions are the instructions of God. The pilot premiered last August to test audience reception. Amazon later picked up all 10 episodes. Zealotry is an edgy topic nowadays, but hulking Ron Perlman’s masterful dramatic acting balances what could be a promising series.

Late Show with Stephen Colbert – Tuesday, Sept. 8, 11:35 p.m., CBS

The former host of the immensely popular “Colbert Report” on Comedy Central makes his return to TV as David Letterman’s replacement on the “Late Show.” Colbert, who formerly played a conservative blowhard on his political satire show, was a popular pick to take over the venerable late night show. Colbert had his own show since 2005, but viewers rarely saw the real Stephen Colbert, a bit of mystery that adds intrigue to the debut show. The lineup for the premiere includes George Clooney and Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush—two men on opposite ends of the political spectrum. His first week will also include guests Scarlett Johansson, Amy Schumer, and Stephen King, among other notable names in the entertainment industry.

Live! Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris – Tuesday, September 15, 10 p.m., NBC

Neil Patrick Harris with "Little NPH." (Photo credit: Facebook/NBC)
Neil Patrick Harris with “Little NPH.” (Photo credit: Facebook/NBC)

Based on popular British show “Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway,” the multi-talented Neil Patrick Harris hosts an hour of goofy debauchery. Stunts, skits, pranks, audience interactions, musical numbers, and giveaways are all wrapped up in a comedic night for all ages to enjoy.

The Big Bang Theory – Monday, September 21, 8 p.m., CBS

The geeky gang returns with more nerd-oriented humor. After a heartbreaking season eight finale, continued drama will likely open up the season, suggesting a deeper exploration into the main casts’ uncertain relationships.

Gotham – Monday, September 21, 8 p.m., FOX

Gotham

Following a fresh perspective outside of Gotham City’s Dark Knight, season one set the stage for Detective Jim Gordon’s real threats. Season two brings new disturbing villain performances for familiar faces, including the origins of everyone’s favorite psycho clown.

Life in Pieces – Monday, September 21, 8:30 p.m., CBS

One distant, dysfunctional family is brought together through a series of awkward and all-too-familiar life experiences. Whether it’s bringing home a date, starting college, or attending a funeral, this comical family rivals “Modern Family” and “Parenthood.”

Minority Report – Monday, September 21, 9 p.m., FOX

Set ten years after Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film adaption, the dangers of pre-crime have been brushed under the rug, except for surviving test subjects still suffering from visions. A good balance between action and thrills and the psychological impact of pre-crime on the characters sparks some initial interest, but it’s hard to say how long that will hold up.

Limitless – Monday, September 21, 10 p.m., CBS

Based on a 2011 film, executive producer Bradley Cooper (who starred in the film) explores the limitless potential of the human mind and body when under the influence of a mysterious, life-altering drug called NZT. The premise struggled at the box office, but veteran cast member Bradley Cooper’s involvement may help improve the film’s flaws for the television adaption.

Blindspot – Monday, September 21, 10 p.m., NBC

No name. No memory. Just a Jane Doe (Jaimie Alexander) with mysterious freshly inked tattoos and a lot of unique combat skills. While her origins are unknown, the show’s influences are not. “Blindspot” looks and feels like a tweaked cross between the Jason Bourne series and Director Christopher Nolan’s “Momento.” While mimicking a premise isn’t unheard of, the lack of creativity leaves concern for what the show has to offer.

The Muppets – Tuesday, September 22, 8 p.m., ABC

Everyone’s favorite gang of puppet pals has been slowly revived since their return in the 2011 film. With appropriate satire, Kermit and friends adapts well to the modern times. Grow impatient with Kermit in bumper-to-bumper traffic, stand up for inter-species relationships with Fozzie, and take selfies with Miss Piggy. Not even the taunts and criticisms of elderly Statler and Waldorf can stop us from watching this show.

Scream Queens – Tuesday, September 22, 8 p.m., FOX

In a troublesome sorority house tainted with murders, three snobby “sisters” investigate the latest massacre to defend their house. The trailers–and plot–hint at an uneasy power struggle between spotlighting the controversies of sororities/fraternities and a seemingly unrelated murder mystery. With corny college portrayals and a darkly unusual sense of humor, the fate of this new anthology series is uncertain.

Rosewood – Wednesday, September 23, 8 p.m., FOX

A slight variation on the police-solve-mystery trend, the focus turns to pathologist Beaumont Rosewood (Morris Chestnut, “Kick-Ass 2”), who solves crimes with the use of his autopsy lab. Exchanging couple-like banter with a female cop friend, the two uncover what Miami PD can’t. Aside from the political, social, and business inaccuracies of Rosewood’s line of work, he and his partner’s dynamic may hold audiences’ attention well enough to keep the show running.

Empire – Wednesday, September 23, 8 p.m., FOX

Empire

The show accumulated a large following by the end of season one’s shocking finale. Blood will be shed in the second season. Fans will also acquaint themselves with the backstories of the sassy Cookie Lyon (Taraji P. Henson) and her narcissistic ex-husband, Lucious (Terrence Howard).

Heroes Reborn – Thursday, September 24, 8 p.m., NBC

The 2006-2010 series returns with creator Tim Kring emerging from hiding, much like his superhero characters. Hiding, hunted, or embracing lives as vigilantes, heroes old and new join the action to discover and wield their extraordinary abilities in what is expected to be a successful revival.

The Player – Thursday, September 24, 9 p.m., NBC

When security consultant Alex Kane (Philip Winchester) loses his wife, he invests in a high-stakes game orchestrated by wealthy pit boss Mr. Johnson (Wesley Snipes) to hunt down his wife’s killer.

Bob’s Burgers – Sunday, September 27, 7:30 p.m., FOX

Laugh it up with one of America’s favorite animated family. Season six will feature new guest voices, such as Steve Buscemi, Ben Garant Thomas Lennon (both from “Reno 911!”), Paul Rudd, and Henry Winkler (Adult Swim’s “Childrens Hospital”) to contribute to the pee-your-pants comedy.

Once Upon A Time – Sunday, September 27, 8 p.m., ABC

The fairy tale residents of Storybrooke face their greatest threat yet: Emma Swan. The Dark Swan’s rise sparked a major game changer for the series. Embracing Disney’s modern princesses, including the bow-wielding Merida from Brave, season five promises plenty of surprises in the fan base’s fantastical quest to a happy ending.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – Sunday, September 27, 8:30 p.m., FOX

Brooklyn Nine Nine

Returning for their second season, jokester Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) and his uptight boss, Ray Holt (Andre Braugher), exchange hilarious dialogue in this whacky workplace comedy of New York’s finest that mirrors the humor of “Parks and Recreation.”

Blood and Oil – Sunday, September 27, 9 p.m., ABC

Playing dirty to get filthy rich is the show’s tagline. The show is a straightforward story about a couple’s ambition for wealth–and ultimately drama–in a modern oil boom. Based on the footage shown so far, the show appears to be an attempt to corner a dramatic take on oil-focused reality shows, sprinkling in some raunchy sex scenes. Suspicious that there’s not much else to the show, “Blood and Oil” could possibly fall face-first in the mud.

The Last Man on Earth – Sunday, September 27, 9:30 p.m., FOX

The Last Man on Earth
Will Forte stars in “The Last Man on Earth.” (Photo credit: Facebook)

It’s pretty lonely–and funny–being the last humans alive on Earth in this comical variation on the apocalypse genre. Ordinary Phil Miller (Will Forte) and the bizarre Carol Pilbasian (Kristen Schaal) make the apocalypse less traumatizing and more appealing. Ambitious for its genre, there is the looming risk of originality dying out fast.

Quantico – Sunday, September 27, 10 p.m., ABC

From the look of things, “Quantico” is set to join a long line of suspense-filled shows following law enforcement officers as they investigate the latest fictional terrorist attack on American soil. But this time it all starts at the FBI training base in Quantico, Virginia. However, it appears viewers won’t be confined to the secretive walls at Quantico. After the aforementioned terror attacks shocks a major US city, FBI investigators immediately point the blame at one of its trainees, hinting at an inside job. Expect plenty of cliffhangers as the agent-in-training seeks to clear her name.

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah – Monday, September 28, 11 p.m., Comedy Central

We do not envy Trevor Noah. The South African-born comedian has big shoes to fill as he takes over as host of Comedy Central’s premiere political satire show, hosted by Jon Stewart for 16 years. After losing Stephen Colbert and now Stewart, Comedy Central is entering a new era, one with many unanswered questions. Noah has some history with the “Daily Show” audience. He first joined the crew as one of Stewart’s many “corespondents.” Prior to coming to the States, Noah hosted his own show in his native country.

Grandfathered – Tuesday, September 29, 8 p.m., FOX

Putting a slight twit on reconnecting irresponsible parents with accidental children, bachelor Jimmy Martino (John Stamos) meets not only his long-lost son (Josh Peck), but also his granddaughter. With a solid cast, there are high hopes for what looks like a cute coming-of-age-at-any-age story.

The Grinder – Tuesday, September 29, 8:30 p.m., FOX

This show is about an actor turned lawyer (Rob Lowe), who justifies his expertise based on his portrayal of a lawyer. Or maybe it’s about his jealous real-life lawyer brother (Fred Savage), because the trailer seems to flip back and forth between the two as main characters. It’s hard to pinpoint who this show is really about. “Grinder” is filled with enough sibling jealousy and stale jokes to issue a warrant for this show’s cancellation.

Code Black – Wednesday, September 30, 10 p.m., CBS

When an ER is understaffed and overcrowded, a “code black” occurs. This is a daily reality for Angels Memorial Hospital in LA, the busiest ER in America. If Code Black doesn’t detract from their interesting premise, intensifying the heart-clenching moment of miracles prayed for and performed, this show may have a shot.

Sleepy Hollow – Thursday, October 1, 9 p.m., FOX

Sleepy Hollow

The supernatural drama lost a lot of people both in and out of the show. Season two concluded with several major character deaths, the showrunner quitting, and a minor character not returning for season three. So many casualties leave some head-spinning confusion for the upcoming season’s plot.

The Blacklist – Thursday, October 1, 9 p.m., NBC

Blacklist

Season 2 ended with a whirlwind of a finale, with The Cabal—seriously, The Cabal?—framing Lizzie, err Masha, for the fatal poisoning of Sen. Hawkins, forcing her to escape custody inside the Post Office, her former place of employment. Her escape, with an assist from, Red, of course, also brought her face-to-face with duplicitous US Attorney General Tom Connolly, a particularly heinous member of the war-hungry Cabal. Lizzie shoots the no-good AG, instantly making her one of the most wanted fugitives in the world. Now she has to run for her life—a truly f’d up life. Aside from the whole Most Wanted List problem, the shooting serves another purpose: it awakens dormant memories from her past, like the time she fatally shot her dad. Yikes. Little Lizzie never had a chance. If that’s not enough, we discover that Liz is not Liz, but Masha, the daughter of a Russian agent. We were definitely served a spoonful. Season 3 has plenty to work with.

Dr. Ken – Friday, October 2, 9:30 p.m., ABC

Ken Jeong (“Community,” “The Hangover”) emphasizes his previous career as a doctor by playing an inappropriate physician with a loving but crazy family. Based on his role in “Community,” Ken’s humor can be family-friendly, which ABC will strictly enforce for general audiences. Competition against similar family-oriented sitcoms will make Ken’s reputable act a deciding factor for the continuation of this show.

The Flash – Tuesday, October 6, 8 p.m., CW

The Flash

The speedy superhero returns with a new suit, characters, and villain. With the help of the original Flash, Jay Garrick (“Teddy Sears,” “Masters of Sex”), Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) and his flashy outfit combat the evil Zoom, who rivals Flash in every way. The general surge of quality comic book adaptions allows Flash to keep running the distance.

iZombie – Tuesday, October 6, 9 p.m., CW

Surviving the dying zombie trend with a more lighthearted approach, the brainy show returns for a second season. Alongside new characters and a unique concept, the show’s greatest challenge is capturing the attention of adult audiences. With supportive fans, and only “The Walking Dead” to compete with, the show stands a chance and may be worth the watch.

Arrow – Wednesday, October 7, 8 p.m., CW

Season three’s jam-packed finale left viewers on the edge of their seats, wondering what lay ahead for Oliver Queen and his alternate bow-wielding persona. With uncertain futures in the balance, and a new villain possibly on the rise, the series nailed a perfect arrow shot straight to the chest for a lot of passionate fans. Hopefully season four will open with a bang and not drag out the suspense.

Supernatural – Wednesday, October 7, 9 p.m., CW

In season 11, things are going to go from bad to worse for the reunited Winchester brothers now that The Darkness has been released. To satisfy the absence of some late characters, fan favorites are expected to return in surprising ways. After eleven seasons and probably still counting, it’s not too late to binge watch the first nine seasons on Netflix and join the loyal mass following.

The Vampire Diaries – Thursday, October 8, 8 p.m., CW

After some major blows at the end of season six, fans will return to find many characters in states of mourning as well as blooming romances, deadly villains, and divided loyalties. Actor Ian Somerhalder emphasized returning the show to its roots, meaning a stronger focus on the characters over the complicated mythology. Similar to “The Walking Dead,” “Vampire Diaries” cornered a trending market. Entering its seventh season, it’s likely no one will be sucking the life out of this show anytime soon.

The Originals – Thursday, October 8, 9 p.m., CW

If “Vampire Diaries” isn’t enough vampires for you, follow the spinoff centered on the Mikaelson siblings. Season three continues the origin stories of broken families, damaged friendships, destructive curses, and brewing witch wars.

Reign – Friday, October 9, 8 p.m., CW

Reign

Mary, Queen of Scots (Adelaide Kane) and the social and political power struggles between devious families returns for a third season with more blood-curdling backstabbing and lustful romance.

The Walking Dead – Sunday, October 11, 9 p.m., AMC

Perhaps one of the most anticipated shows in fall’s schedule, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and the group continue their struggle for survival. Though the fleshed-out cast is large and the guts spill less and less, fans return for even the tiniest sprinkles of suspenseful cliffhangers, even if it’s just to see which character will die.

Truth be Told – Friday, October 16, 8:30 p.m., NBC

The director of “How I Met Your Mother” brings a new gang of tight friends, two married couples, and their comical day-to-day lives. It’s similar to “Seinfeld,” being a show about nothing, minus the laughter. Truth be told, this looks bad.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – Monday, October 19, 8 p.m., CW

The musical comedy revolves around a single woman’s lonely love life and her decade-long obsession to date/marry her ex-boyfriend from high school. While desire and fixation in 2015 is interesting, portraying anyone so one-dimensional is disappointing and implies that the show doesn’t intend to explore the complex layers of human interaction. No amount of music or laughs will save such a lack of depth.

Supergirl – Monday, October 26, 8:30 p.m., CBS

The iconic hero’s Kryptonian cousin joins the family business in saving a helpless humanity from disasters. Avoiding Superman’s shadow, a female lead is long overdue but cautiously anticipated. Ideally, the showrunners won’t hold back Supergirl’s true potential and let her take flight.

Wicked City – Tuesday, October 27, 10 p.m., ABC

In 1980, on Sunset Strip, Los Angeles was the serial killer capitol of the world. Hiding in the shadows are Kent and Betty, two devious killers turned lovers and modern audiences’ portals to this dark, rock-and-roll-centric era. Saturated with even the tiniest details of the time, the show will shine a light on the frightening dark side of what feels like another world.

Angel From Hell – Thursday, November 5, 9:30 p.m., CBS

Crazy and inappropriate as ever, Jane Lynch is the guardian angel everyone wants. Unfortunately, Maggie Lawson claims her in this cute, uplifting, and comical series about the simple human desire for an occasional helping hand. Depending on the audience’s investment in the characters, and the true hilarity of Lynch, “Angel From Hell” may be a fun show to check out.

Into the Badlands – Sunday, November 15, 10 p.m., AMC

Based loosely on the Chinese tale Journey to the West, enter a unique world ruled by feudal barons. Struggling to survive in a primitive lifestyle, a katana-wielding warrior fights with stylistic over-the-top action, almost comic-like in its execution. It’s original enough to stand out but the setting is odd enough to alienate general viewers.

Chicago Med – Tuesday, November 17, 9 p.m., NBC

This last month, “Chicago Fire’s” spinoff suffered the loss of “Walking Dead’s” Laurie Holden and their showrunner. Offering no signs of life outside a typical medical drama, it’s likely the show will flatline.

The Man in the High Castle – Friday, November 20, Amazon Instant Video

Based on Philip K. Dick’s award-winning novel, the show explores a chilling alternate history if the Axis Powers won WWII. The gripping direction season one goes is easily immersive, pulling audiences into a well-realized dystopia, and season two should be expected of no less.

-With Rashed Mian

Review: Fantastic Four’s Fourth a Fantastic Bore

Fantastic Four
Fantastic Four

Concluding 2015’s summer superheroes, Director Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four premiered Friday, rehashing a tweaked origin story but overall a “fantastic” bore.

Like a rite of passage, superhero reboots are forever trapped reiterating the transformative events that separate their protagonists from mankind. This past decade treated comic book fans to some promising adaptions, but after three (now four) unsuccessful attempts since 1994, the Fantastic Four films have become a little more than a failed experiment. It begs the question: how many times are we going to watch the Fantastic Four’s science project go wrong or Bruce Wayne’s parents die or Peter Parker get bitten by a radioactive spider? What is the necessity of repeating their origins?

It’s not a direct adaption, though. Originally set during the Space Race, borrowing the previous installment’s idea of modernizing the new Fantastic Four was a plus. But the film downplays the millennial cast as immature college youths. For supposed geniuses capable of mastering inter-dimensional travel, watching the famed freak accident triggered from a drunken idea, which was shared over a flask of alcohol, was disappointing.

The life-altering event, and anything involving the characters as the Fantastic Four, occurred about halfway through the movie. Not before building up an hour of Reed Richard’s (Miles Teller) unnecessary childhood and academic studies, as well as explaining the teleportation device in a setup that stretched longer than Mr. Fantastic. Even when united, Marvel’s First Family shared anything but familial chemistry.

That’s right, the main antagonist of this film wasn’t the disfigured and dull Dr. Doom (Toby Kebbell), but Marvel’s old arch-nemesis, character development. The plot never allowed the characters time to connect with each other. Any bonding was implied off-screen, as the plot jumped over significant time gaps. Instead, the wasted talent’s personalities come off more transparent than the Invisible Girl (Kate Mara).

From there, the plot sprinted to a final battle that no undeveloped superheroes could save, not even the Human Torch (Michael B. Jordan) or a CGI-aggressive Thing (Jamie Bell). If the characters aren’t clicking, the audience isn’t, either.

It’s hard to say if Trank’s Fantastic Four improved from the film’s distant 1994-2007 relatives. With lackluster characters and a ton of setup, the latest installment disappointed with an overused origin story that was uneventful, unremarkable, and most definitely forgettable. You know, until the series is rebooted again.

REVIEW: ‘Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’

Mission Impossible
Actor Tom Cruise reprises his role as an Impossible Missions Force agent in "Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation" (Photo credit: YouTube)

The movie: “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.” Premiere date: Friday, July 31, 2015. Director: Christopher McQuarrie. Your mission, should you accept it, is to tolerate not only a punctuation-heavy title, but also embrace two hours of anticipated action and thrills with a continuing minimal focus on character.

After being officially disavowed and forced to work off the grid in “Ghost Protocol” (2011), Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his fellow Impossible Missions Force (IMF) agents now find themselves in a similarly precarious position. While “Rogue Nation” followed the basic premise consistent in previous “Mission: Impossible” films, the fifth installment successfully delivered–almost celebrated, really–the continuation of Cruise’s over-the-top action scenes.

Look no further than the highly promoted plane scene in which Cruise–and the film’s three producers–try to move the needle yet again, perhaps hoping it’d be enough to push an already adrenaline-fueled generation of moviegoers to the edge of their seats. While watching Cruise dangle off the side of an aircraft as it rocketed off a runway did indeed provoke my anxieties of commercial flying, the high-octane scene, despite the marketing attention it has received, is given only five minutes of screen time. Alongside a high-speed car/motorcycle chase and an underwater sequence, fans old and new are treated to a revived tension (the “vault scene” from the original film, for example) that has been noticeably absent from previous installments.

Still, for all its action and even some creative gadgets and weaponry, the lack of originality in the premise was disappointing. No amount of action or tension saved the climax, which fell flat in comparison to the rest of the film. The fault, I felt, was a lack of focus on the characters.

This time around, Ethan Hunt had his sanity toyed with. McQuarrie took a different approach to him that made me slightly more appreciative of the direction the protagonist could go. But for the most part, Hunt seems to have become some kind of fusion between the classy James Bond and the intense Tom Cruise.

Following Hunt are some returning characters as well as some new faces. Fellow agents Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), and Will Brandt (Jeremy Renner) return with entertaining, humorous, and couple-like banter. Alec Baldwin joins the cast as the strict and self-righteous CIA director Alan Hunley, but the spotlight for the supporting characters was almost entirely stolen by badass sidekick Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson).

Though she matched Hunt in almost every way, Faust presumably joined a long list of replaceable, underdeveloped and unappreciated female leads in the Mission series. Faust was complex, and her motivations and goals were understandable. She and Hunt share a deeper connection, which strengthened their dynamic. As an added bonus, the connection wasn’t romantic! Interestingly, Faust made for a more compelling antagonist than the mysterious and al-Qaeda-like shadow organization called the Syndicate.

The main villain, Syndicate leader Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), was creepy but not a memorable evildoer. The Syndicate was made up of dozens of rogue IMF agents, but our heroes seem to believe that taking down Lane would shut the whole thing down. As Hunt and his crew clearly didn’t learn from history, eradicating an organization, especially one trained in your own tactics, is not that simple.

Like its predecessors, “Rogue Nation” punched, kicked, shot and exploded its way into theaters across the nation. The action took priority, which pleased fans expecting that nostalgic familiarity, but sacrificed a fifth opportunity for some originality.