Mission Highly Improbable

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is currently in theaters

Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015) – Rated PG-13

Ethan and team take on their most impossible mission yet, eradicating the Syndicate – an International rogue organization as highly skilled as they are, committed to destroying the IMF.”

The blessing and curse of any Tom Cruise movie is that it is, first and foremost, a Tom Cruise film. I believe that Hollywood has two types of successful players: actors and stars. While the groups are not mutually exclusive, Cruise does fall firmly in the latter category.

Cruise, the consummate showman, actually hung from a plane as it took off. His willingness, even insistence, on performing this stunt himself garnered a lot of press and the studios milked that for all it was worth. It was showcased in all the trailers and most of the clips and featured in just about every interview. It was a brilliant marketing ploy that paid off handsomely.

The even more brilliant part of this strategem is that this showpiece is the opening scene in the movie (a la some of the fantastic Bond openings). Not only that but, while it is breathtaking, it isn’t even the best action scene in the film. That award belongs to a complex piece set during a performance of Turandot. That scene is worthy of Hitchcock with a dash of DePalma (who directed the first Mission Impossible movie).

Lately, Cruise has had some very strong female leads. Emily Blunt stole Edge of Tomorrow away from Cruise with her performance. Here, Rebecca Ferguson appears as a mysterious femme fatale. Her role is not as good as Blunt’s but she makes a great impression.

The supporting cast does an admirable job but make no mistake: they are there for support. Simon Pegg returns as our comic relief. Alec Baldwin plays a smarmy Alec Baldwin type. Jeremy Renner waits patiently in the wings in the hope that he can one day headline the franchise. Ving Rhames provides some needed color to the otherwise lily-white cast.

Now for the curse part, Cruise works so hard to be on top of the game that some things come off a little strange. We’re treated to the sight of a perfectly-sculpted shirtless 53-year-old Cruise for an extended period during an interrogation sequence. Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is an expert marksman, champion swimmer/breath holder, short and long distance runner, demolition driver, motorcyclist, and on and on. The movie seems to function as an ad for Cruise bodybuilding or perhaps Scientology.

Cruise has a knack for picking good directors. The first Mission Impossible was directed by Brian DePalma, the second by John Woo, and the third by J.J. Abrams. Each showcased their directors’ strengths without losing sight of the Cruise factor. Ghost Protocol dropped the numbers and proved Brad Bird could do live action films with incredible stunts. Rogue Nation is made by Cruise’s Jack Reacher director (and Usual Suspects scribe), Christopher McQuarrie.

MI: Rogue Nation is an excellent action movie although my wife thought it went on too long. I will agree that the motorcycle chase right after the car chase was a bit excessive.

Edge of a Million Maleficent Ways to Die Tomorrow in the West

I’ve had quite a banner summer at the theater. Here are just a few quick tidbits.

Maleficent

Maleficent (2014) – Rated PG

A vengeful fairy is driven to curse an infant princess, only to discover that the child may be the one person who can restore peace to their troubled land.”

I both look forward to and cringe with every non-animated re-imagining from Disney. Alice in Wonderland (2010) was a gorgeous confection.but ultimately shallow. Ditto for Oz the Great and Powerful (2013). Maleficent is much the same with CGI replacing plotting and character development. The story neuters the character of Maleficent, one of the great Disney villains.

Having said that, this is an enjoyable ride for the kids and Angelina Jolie IS Maleficent. Her performance at least partially redeems the movie.

A Million Ways to Die

A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014) – Rated R

As a cowardly farmer begins to fall for the mysterious new woman in town, he must put his new-found courage to the test when her husband, a notorious gun-slinger, announces his arrival.”

The Good: It is way funnier than Neighbors and Neil Patrick Harris is always delightful.

The Bad: It is just okay. Ted was much funnier. Joke delivery could use some work – it is pretty laconic, much like the Old West.

The Ugly: While trying to be edgy, it tells endless penis and fart jokes. The western setting may be offputting for some, tired for others.

Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow (2014) – Rated PG-13

An officer finds himself caught in a time loop in a war with an alien race. His skills increase as he faces the same brutal combat scenarios, and his union with a Special Forces warrior gets him closer and closer to defeating the enemy.”

Groundhog Day is a fantastic movie, heartwarming and funny. The concept is so beloved that many television series have produced their own version. The X-Files and Star Trek: TNG had time loop episodes, albeit played seriously. Xena had perhaps the funniest Groundhog Day episode. In spite of it being a tired concept, it has worked time and time again (forgive me).

My dear wife and I went to Edge of Tomorrow with little in the way of expectations. Tom Cruise’s science fiction thriller last year, Oblivion, was decent but a missed opportunity. Edge of Tomorrow is fantastic. Jenny and I couldn’t stop laughing through the first half of the movie as Cruise’s soldier character dies repeatedly.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and ActionFest 2012

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011) – Rated PG-13

“Super-agent Ethan Hunt dangles from skyscrapers and otherwise takes daring to new heights on another operation from the Impossible Missions Force. Helping Hunt get the job done is droll fellow IMF agent Luther Stickel.” (Netflix’s fairly inaccurate description)

“Now remember – Blue is Glue” – “And red?” – “Dead”

Last night I went to see an early showing of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol at my favorite theater, Carolina Cinemas. The early showings included an ActionFest (the Film Festival with a Body Count) announcement. ActionFest 2012 will be held April 12-15 (Thursday through Sunday). This year’s Lifetime Achievement Award will go to stuntman Mickey Gilbert, whose career runs from Ben-Hur to Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and includes such iconic films as The Wild Bunch, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Breakheart Pass, The Towering Inferno and The Last of the Mohicans.

Being first in line, I came away with some nice Mission Impossible swag.

I am not a big Tom Cruise fan. Generally he is a movie star and not an actor. He can act but I’ve only seen that in Interview with the Vampire. I also hate that he is so powerful that every movie of his is a Tom Cruise movie in spite of being directed by some of Hollywood’s biggest names (Brian DePalma, J.J. Abrams, Steven Spielberg, John Woo, etc.). That said he is a good bankable star and is certainly engaging here.

Director Brad Bird (The Incredibles) puts together an amazing action film here. It honestly is an action film on steroids. Instead of an action sequence on the side of a building, we have an Imax action sequence on the side of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. Foot and car chases have been done to death in every conceivable locale so how about a foot and car chase in an amazing sandstorm. You’ve seen fights in parking garages before but have you seen one in an automated parking garage? Didn’t think so.

The film would be well worth recommending for any one of those three sequences. The film is also incredibly beautiful and very fast-paced. Simon Pegg offers a fair amount of comic relief without being overwhelming. Jeremy Renner shows his action movie chops as does Paula Patton – both hold their own against Cruise.

The drawbacks to the film are a maudlin backstory that you won’t care about, a convoluted plot that didn’t make sense when James Bond did it over and over again, characters you don’t really care about, and the worst sin for an action film – a bland, seldom-seen villain. However the action is so wonderful that you probably won’t notice any of the defects until after you leave the theater.

People Watch: Look for Lost’s Josh Holloway as a secret agent in the beginning of the film.

 

Interview with the Vampire

Unfortunately I was out of town all day yesterday so I missed my chance to post every day in October. I’ll post twice today to make up for it. I thought first we’d take a look at some vampires adapted from other medium.

Interview with the Vampire

WATCH: Interview with the Vampire (1994) – “Director Neil Jordan’s Oscar-nominated tale of bloodsucking immortals moves from 18th century New Orleans to a Grand Guignol theater in Paris to present-day San Francisco as it explores betrayal, love, loneliness and hunger. The lives of a trio of vampires — cavalier Lestat (Tom Cruise), tormented Louis (Brad Pitt) and childlike Claudia (Kirsten Dunst) — are interconnected for centuries in this adaptation of Anne Rice’s romantic horror tale”

Anne Rice was livid when she found out her vampire Lestat was going to be played by noted Scientologist Tom Cruise. Pretty much any film Tom Cruise is in becomes a Tom Cruise film (due in part to Tom Cruise being so powerful that he often retains final cut and has no problem overruling directors though in this case Neil Jordan retained final cut) so she certainly had cause for alarm. It was a wonderful surprise then when Tom Cruise gave a riveting, masterful portrayal of Lestat – indeed in my opinion it is his absolute best performance. For those who adore male scenery, in addition to stars Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, we also have Christian Slater, Antonio Banderas, and Stephen Rea. A very young Kirsten Dunst almost manages to steal the show from Cruise as a gloriously creepy young lady. Anne Rice does a wonderful job of adapting her own novel amd Neil Jordan’s direction is superb. The cinematography and atmosphere in the film is wonderful as well if you can manage to tear your eyes away from the performers long enough to enjoy it. To her credit, Anne Rice not only apologized to Tom but took out a two-page ad in Vanity Fair and the New York Times endorsing the movie.

AVOID: Bloodrayne (2006) – This film is simply dreadful. Uwe Boll is widely recognized as one of the (if not the) worst genre director in the world. His films are not hilariously incompetent like Ed Wood’s but simply unwatchably incompetent. I swear that I needed a dramamine to sit through House of the Dead with my daughter. This one is no different in spite of┬áthe presence of slumming actors Michael Madsen, Ben Kingsley, Michael Pare, Billy Zane and Udo Kier.