Mission: Impossible III (2006)

Released: May 5, 2006. Directed by: J.J. Abrams. Starring: Tom Cruise, Michelle Monaghan, Ving Rhames. Runtime: 2h 5 min.

I don’t remember a lot of films I saw in theatres when I was a kid but I remember seeing Mission: Impossible III. It might be because this is the first film I remember seeing that started at the mid-way point in the story, when Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) threatens to kill Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) fiancé Julia (Michelle Monaghan).

The stakes are immediately the highest they’ve felt in the series, as I never felt like they were consistently high in Mission: Impossible or Mission: Impossible II. This was also the first time I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman and the sadism of his character is memorable and threatening.

It’s also just a good film in general and not only because of my nostalgia for it. J.J. Abrams directs the action well and the stunts are great, especially when Ethan leaps off a skyscraper in Shanghai onto another one. Anyway, Davian is the most memorable villain of the series upp to this point. Davian’s a sadistic arms dealer after something called the Rabbit’s Foot.

We don’t really know what it is and that vagueness isn’t great. Though, Davian’s willing to pay $875 million for it, so it’s a pretty big deal. Davian’s just interested in power and tormenting Ethan. In the first film, IMF director Kittredge says to find something that’s personally important to Ethan “and squeeze.” A villain finally takes that advice, as evidenced by the film’s opening scene.

The action scenes are good, and the film’s first big set piece of trying to rescue Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell), after she went to investigate Davian, sets the film’s events up perfectly. At the beginning of the film, Ethan’s settled down with Julia, played well by Michelle Monaghan, and he’s training IMF agents to be ready for the field instead of being in the field himself. But he trained Farris and that’s one of the reasons that Hunt goes back out in the field. This time, the characters are interesting enough that the very personal conflicts feel well-written.

Tom Cruise also runs a lot more in this one. He has such a great chemistry with Monaghan as Julia, as well as his IMF team including franchise mainstay Ving Rhames as Luther and Maggie Q as Zhen. Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays a team member named Declan, but he’s easily the most forgettable of all the IMF agents that have come and gone in the franchise.

Score: 80/100

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Mission: Impossible II (2000)

Released: May 24, 2000. Directed by: John Woo. Starring: Tom Cruise, Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton. Runtime: 2h 3 min.

This review contains a few spoilers.

In Mission: Impossible II, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is rudely called away from his rock-climbing vacation for a new mission. His mission’s in Sydney, Australia where he must destroy a genetically modified disease called the “Chimera.”

For some of the film, skilled thief Nyah Hall (Thandie Newton) is put in the most danger. She’s an ex-girlfriend of main villain Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), a disavowed IMF agent, so she’s called upon to gain his trust. Things get complicated when Ethan also falls for Nyah.

This personal relationship makes it feel like there are more stakes than the first film. It introduces a love triangle dynamic that is interesting from Ethan’s side, but Ambrose is goofy during it. He has an inferiority complex because of the perfect agent Ethan, and he ugly cries when he learns Nyah isn’t loyal to him. I won’t shame guys who cry – I cry at everything – but it’s dumb for this movie.

The writing’s not great, but some dialogue is laughably bad enough to be memorable. Take a gem from Anthony Hopkins’ Mission Commander Swanbeck, for example: “This isn’t mission difficult, it’s mission impossible.” It’s not a bad title for a knockoff film.

Tom Cruise is good again as Ethan, and his long hair looks good as he’s kicking in slow motion. I liked some of the plot itself and the monologue, that’s repeated a few times, about Chimera being the villain and Bellerophon being the hero.

It’s an interesting Greek myth and it’s cool how it’s brought into the story. The story itself doesn’t have a ton of substance other than just trying to destroy a deadly virus, as you can summarize the first hour of the movie about a minute.

Director John Woo tries to distract from that with a lot of slow motion. The entire third act is a lot of Ethan just doing slow-motion kicks. There’s also a whole thing of Ethan shooting a stick bomb to blow in a door and then dramatically walking past the door through the flames, staring at Ambrose.

This silliness made me laugh and was fun, and I think this needed more slow-motion doves. The style of the film in the third act just makes this feel more like a John Woo movie than a Mission: Impossible film. That’s not usually a bad thing – but a lot of this explains why this is considered the weakest of the series.

Score: 50/100

Reviews of other films in the franchise:

Mission: Impossible (1996)

The Incredibles (2004)

The Incredibles

IMDb

Released: November 5, 2004. Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson. Directed by: Brad Bird. Runtime: 1h, 55 min.

In Metroville, superheroes are forced into retirement by the government after getting hit with lawsuits, and the supers promise to refrain from superhero work. Effectively, this makes their secret identities their only identities.

For Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), not being a superhero is a big ask. 15 years after supers are forced into hiding, Bob works in insurance claims by day and hangs out with Lucius Best/Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) at night, listening to police scanners. Since he can’t be heroic as Mr. Incredible, the cinematography makes his days look dark and depressing.

When he’s given an assignment by a mysterious person to be heroic on a remote island, everything’s brighter. After this, he and his family are forced into super action – including wife Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) and their kids Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Spencer Fox), as baby Jack Jack stays at home with a babysitter.

“The Incredibles” is about a family that must hide their powers – Violet can go invisible and make forcefields and Dash can move at super speeds – but otherwise they’re an average family. Helen and Bob even parent differently like normal families.

Bob says that their powers make them special; Helen wants them to know their powers aren’t the only thing that make them special. They’re mostly on the same page – except in a moment that should be punishment for Dash after he puts a thumbtack on his teacher’s chair, Bob’s just excited that Dash was going too fast to be seen on camera.

The Incredibles (pic)

Dash, Violet, Bob and Helen in The Incredibles. (IMDb)

While embracing who you are is an important theme, family’s the most prominent one. One of the film’s coolest moments is when the Parr’s stand together as The Incredibles for the first time, ready to fight the villains as a family. And that moment especially set to Michael Giacchino’s score makes it feel so awesome, and the score is great throughout.

The villain himself, Syndrome (Jason Lee), is well-written by writer/director Brad Bird. Syndrome is a rich guy who creates his own powers by creating gadgets and weapons and his backstory of desperately wanting to be a hero and facing rejection put him on his supervillain path.

The screenplay’s one of the film’s strongest suits as everything flows so well throughout. The lesson that Bob has to learn that being a hero isn’t the most important thing, and that he can be a hero by being a father, is also insightful. Everything’s top-notch here from the dialogue, humour, great characters and action scenes. Bird just brings it to life in such an amazing way.

Bird has some funny comments about villains in general, one of which is an observation on drawn out villain monologues when they could defeat the hero at any moment. “The guy has me on a platter and he won’t shut up!” says Lucius. Bird also voices scene-stealing fashion designer Edna E. Mode, who designs super suits, and her bit about “no capes” is one of the film’s funniest moments.

Score: 100/100

Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)

Ocean’s Thirteen. Released: June 8, 2007. Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon. Directed by: Steven Soderbergh. Runtime: 2h 2 min.

In “Ocean’s Thirteen”, Ocean’s team returns to Vegas when a sleazy casino owner Willy Bank (Al Pacino) double-crosses Reuben (Elliot Gould). The crew plan to get a bit of revenge for by sabotaging Bank’s grand opening of his hotel and casino, called “The Bank.” You can already see the huge ego on this guy, which Pacino plays very believably.

Writers (Brian Koppelman and David Levien) tinker with the formula by having this be more like a sabotage film than a heist film. This had me confused at times because I wondered where the monetary gain was here, but their plot is more for the satisfaction of taking down a bad guy rather than getting a lot money this time. Though, it’s nice they’re back in Vegas because this is where they shine.

They do so in rigging the games in the casino for massive payouts, and the way they go about this is clever and entertaining. The way they solve problems like the Greco player tracker coming to the casino, which monitors all games on the floor to see if wins are legitimate, is well-done.

Don Cheadle Thirteen

Don Cheadle in Ocean’s Thirteen. (IMDb)

It’s also equally rewarding watching the Eleven try to screw Bank over as it was watching them steal from Benedict (Andy Garcia) in the first film. Even though the film isn’t as much a heist film this time, it still has the stylish set-up of how they’ll sabotage the casino and it’s still really entertaining, even if it’s not as great as the first outing.

The characters are still interesting, even though any significant female presence isn’t here this time. Both Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones don’t return because there wouldn’t have been any significant role written for them in the script.

Their absence in the film is explained by Rusty (Pitt) and Danny (Clooney) saying it’s not their fight. Because of this there’s only memorable female character, Abigail Sponder (Ellen Barkin), who is Bank’s right-hand woman. With the lack of females in this one, it’s no wonder they went for a female-led spin-off.

Score: 70/100

Ocean’s Twelve (2004)

Ocean’s Twelve. Released: December 10, 2004. Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts. Directed by: Steven Soderbergh. Runtime: 2h 5 min.

Spoiler warning: There’s a spoiler for “Ocean’s Eleven” in the opening paragraph. 

In “Ocean’s Twelve”, the old squad reunites to do one more heist when Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) comes back for what they stole from him in the first film. It’s three years later and he wants the money back with interest. Without much of a choice, the Eleven must do what they do best: steal things to pay off their debt.

A new character here is Catherine Zeta-Jones as a detective, Isabel, on the tail of the Eleven. She also gets nice character moments and doesn’t feel cliché, even though she’s a love interest of Rusty (Brad Pitt).

She’s one of the film’s antagonists, and there’s also the Night Fox (Vincent Cassel), a rival thief who fancies himself the world’s best thief, and challenges Danny’s (George Clooney) team to stealing an item. The character sounds name sounds more like a comic book villain, but he’s just a petty thief.

The individual heists in this film are still entertaining even though they lack the flair of its predecessor. There are a lot more problems raised in this film but there are also a lot of interesting solutions.

Ocean's Twelve

Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and George Clooney in Ocean’s Twelve. (IMDB)

The fact that the franchise exists in the real world with real celebrities gives comedic opportunity for writer George Nolfi. This includes an amusing cameo by Topher Grace, and it also makes things get really fun when Tess (Julia Roberts) gets dragged into the film’s scheme.

Most characters get their chances to shine again. Nolfi thinks of creative ways to get characters out of the picture for some time – like sending Yen (Shaobo Qin) somewhere else in a duffle bag, even though his character’s role is small enough as he just speaks Chinese.

Sometimes getting these characters out of the way for awhile is helpful because it’s hard to keep track of all of them. It’s also interesting to watch the Nolfi tinker with the formula more and see how it works outside of Vegas. It still works and offers entertainment, and it’s nice to see them stealing things again.

Score: 70/100

Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

Ocean’s Eleven. Released: December 7, 2001. Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts. Directed by: Steven Soderbergh. Runtime: 1h 56 min.

With Ocean’s Eight releasing on Friday, I thought I’d review the trilogy, which starts with 2001’s “Ocean’s Eleven” based on a 1960 Rat Pack film of the same name.

When Danny Ocean (George Clooney) is released from prison, he immediately gets a crew together to rob three Las Vegas casinos simultaneously.

Steven Soderbergh’s style is what helps make this film so much fun. The writing by Ted Griffin is also stellar and the way he introduces the members of the Ocean’s Eleven is so great and it tells you all you need to know about them.

This is best shown in the scene when we meet twin brothers Virgil (Casey Affleck) and Turk (Scott Caan) Malloy as they’re bored passing time and Turk runs over Virgil’s small remote-control monster truck while Turk races it in a giant monster truck. Their banter’s one of the consistently funny things in the franchise.

The montage-like explanation of how they’re going to execute the heist is also entertaining. The team of characters and the cast is great and everyone plays their roles well. Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) is Ocean’s sidekick and helps recruit the team. His banter with Ocean is strong. Julia Roberts is also great as Danny’s ex-wife, Tess.

Rounding out the eleven include sleight of hand guy Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon), insider blackjack dealer Frank (Bernie Mac), tech guy Livingston Dell (Eddie Jemison), grease man Yen (Shaobo Qin), master of disguise Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner) and explosives guy Basher (Don Cheadle).

There’s also Reuben (Elliot Gould) who bankrolls the heist because of a vendetta against casino owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), the man they plan to steal from. They plan to steal $150 million on a busy casino night from his vault.

Ocean's Eleven

Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, Eddie Jemison, Scott Caan, Carl Reiner, Shaobo Qin, Don Cheadle in Ocean’s Eleven. (IMDb)

We find out how they want to get in but Reuben points out it’s really an impossible heist because the hardest part is getting out. “Once you’re out the front door you’re still in the middle of the fucking desert,” he says. Gould’s a delight, here, especially when he does his recap of the most successful casino robberies (still colossal failures). He’s funny, and in these cutscenes is a spot where Soderbergh’s style and cinematography shine through.

During the leadup and during the heist, the writing’s really smart because we as the audience aren’t always in on the plan and it’s fun to see how they do what they do. It makes it more entertaining.

What works best for the film besides its editing, score and great direction is that all of the actors have a flawless chemistry. There’s amusing banter between all of them. It helps that their characters are well-written, too, and there’s a believable hostility between Ocean and ex-wife Tess.

It’s hard not to be entertained by this. I mean, I watched this over two years ago and I was still on the edge of my seat and thoroughly entertained because I only vaguely remembered what the twists and turns were. However, that just might be an ode to my bad memory.

Score: 88/100

Mr. 3000 (2004)

Released: September 17, 2004. Directed by: Charles Stone III. Starring: Bernie Mac, Angela Bassett, Michael Rispoli. Runtime: 1h 44 min.

I decided to review this because I’m about to reach 3,000 tweets on Twitter and I thought this would be a review of a movie with ‘3000’ in the name would mark the occasion. 

Bernie Mac stars as the very, very self-confident (fictional) Stan Ross in Mr. 3000. He got the name by reaching 3,000 hits playing for the Milwaukee Brewers. He thinks the name is synonymous with greatness and he talks about the name like it’s his big-headed alter ego or superhero name. Granted – Stan Ross would make a boring movie title.

He’s so obsessed with the name that the moment he achieved 3000 hits, he quit the game and abandoned the Brewers in July in the middle of a pennant race (even for fiction that’s totally unacceptable). Now it’s nine years later in 2004 and he’s the owner of the Mr. 3000 Shopping Centre and desperately wants into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Fact checking uncovers that he’s only Mr. 2997 because of a clerical error. Since his name simply loses meaning, the 47-year-old goes back to the MLB to try to get his 3,000-hit crown back.

Interestingly, if Ross were real, he would be tied for 30th on the career hitting record list with Roberto Clemente, who finished with 3,000 hits over 18 seasons, ending with a .317 batting average. The film’s writers did some research since they say Ross finished with a .314 batting average and if we assume he started playing at 20 – he’d have played about 18 seasons.

I think his ego would have prevented him from retiring when he did since he would have had a couple of good years left. Since he wants to be the best – you’d think he would just keep climbing up the hitting leader boards instead of being content with 30th. I digress and accept that he quit so he can have the name, just since the premise is amusing.

The baseball realism was lacking since he was brought up with September call-ups into the big leagues without doing spring training or any sort-of rehab games. I know he’s one of the greatest (fictional) hitters of all-time, but the guy hasn’t played pro ball in nine years.

He basically has a month to just get three hits, and when he starts striking out left and right it’s hard to believe since he was one of the best hitters of his time. Even though it’s about bringing old school into new school and trying to show how much the game has changed, I’m not believing that he’s going to be hitting like Mario Mendoza (one of the worst hitters in history).

It’s only plausible he stays in the Majors because the Brewers are fifth out of six teams in their division and because his presence sells tickets. High stakes are removed for the Brewers because they’re in a terrible position and the only thing they can play for is a respectable finish. It just leaves Stan to root for, but that’s hard because he’s such a jerk – plus, since he has a month to get three lousy hits, the stakes aren’t that high.

Mr. 3000 photo

Stan Ross (Bernie Mac) demands his 3,000th hit ball back from a fan at the film’s beginning. (Source)

It’s an entertaining film and Bernie Mac is believable as the title character; he’s touching at times and keeps the Ross from always being unlikable. Still, the character and his arrogance is the film’s biggest hurdle. It doesn’t help that there’s another Brewers player – Rex “T-Rex” Pennebaker (Brian White) who’s just like Stan. Rex needs a slice of humble pie, but Stan needs the whole bakery.

If you can get past Stan’s arrogance, it’s fun because Mac is funny as the character when his ego’s in check. One of my favourite moments is when Stan is working out and he looks like a fool because he’s so out of shape. It’s delightful that he’s put in his place, and his silence is nice. Then he’s fit again and his cockiness returns. It’s not good character work if one of my favourite aspects is the main protagonist looking like an idiot.

Angela Bassett’s a highlight as ESPN reporter Mo Simmons. She’s one of Stan’s old flames, and brings a natural charm to Mr. 3000 and keeps the man himself grounded. He is way easier to tolerate when she’s around. Before she’s there, he’s an ass – even with the charming Bernie Mac playing him. Some of his worst moments are calling his new team little leaguers.

There are a few memorable laughs, especially a joke that Japanese pitcher Fukuda (Ian Anthony Dale) doesn’t know how to swear properly. The pay-off’s funny when teammates try to teach him. Some of the jokes about how old Stan is fall flat, but there are a few funny ones including one about Viagra.

It’s a mediocre feature but it becomes an entertaining sports movie at the literal halfway point. Before that it had a handful of chuckles but it never gets fun until Stan starts enjoying the game of baseball, too, and learning that it’s not all about him.

Score: 60/100