Mission: Impossible reviews – Ghost Protocol (2011), Rogue Nation (2015)

Released: December 21, 2011. Directed by: Brad Bird. Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg. Runtime: 2h 12 min.

Brad Bird directs his first-live action film with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol after doing the great film The Incredibles.

I think his sense of humour is one of the reasons this entry has so many funny moments, and another reason is Simon Pegg getting a bigger role as Benji, who’s been newly promoted to field agent. Bird’s humour is shown when Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) gets a mission to find files identifying a person of interest called “Cobalt,” from the Moscow Kremlin archives.

It’s the usual when Ethan gets the message, but the phone says it’s going to self destruct but it doesn’t, so Ethan goes back and hits it with his hand.

The plot itself is good as “Ghost Protocol” is put in place by the President that disavows the entire IMF team because Ethan and his team, including Benji and Jane Carter (Paula Patton), are implicated in the bombing at the Kremlin. Also helping them is intelligence analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), and his character’s super interesting. The villain played by Michael Nyqvist is good.

The action’s thrilling, too, especially the stunt outside of the world’s tallest building, Dubai’s Burj Khalif. The film’s prison break at the beginning is also such a great opening.

Score: 85/100

 

Released: July 31, 2015. Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie. Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Jeremy Renner. Runtime: 2h 11 min.

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 idea of a shadow organization like the IMF is such a cool idea. It’s awesome watching Ethan try to take them down, and there are a lot of cool plot twists throughout.

Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) is also a good villain, and his speaking voice is so damn cool. New character Isla Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) has a great dynamic with Hunt, and she keeps us guessing throughout.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is just so bonkers it starts with Tom Cruise hanging off an airplane. It’s one of the best stunts but the film is very entertaining. The film’s set pieces really continue to astound, especially the car chases. One notable scene at an opera makes the opera look like a lot of fun, so that’s a mission it also accomplishes.

Score: 90/100

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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

The Boxtrolls (2014)

The BoxtrollsReleased: September 26, 2014. Directed by: Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi. Starring: Ben Kingsley, Jared Harris, Elle Fanning. Runtime: 96 min.

For the kids, The Boxtrolls is a colourful animated film that they will remember fondly for a crazy hermit who repeatedly says “Jelly!” For the adults, it’s a clever political satire of the power one man can have over a small populous by planting a single idea in their heads.

Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) convinces the townspeople of Cheesebridge that boxtrolls are a monstrous race that eat children and steal cheeses, and that’s not okay in a town called Cheesebridge. When a boy is stolen by the boxtrolls, a city-wide curfew is put in effect. Rumours fly that the boxtrolls ate the father’s bones. Snatcher uses this as an opportunity to spark a paranoia of the unknown.

In reality, they’re a misunderstood, harmless race that steal what they need, like tiny men from The Borrowers. Their appearance is reminiscent of the annoying Crazy Frog, and their timid personalities are much like turtles (the box is their shell). The logo on the box they wear is also their name. There’s a boxtroll called Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) boy who obviously doesn’t look like the rest of his people. When Snatcher is hired by the town’s mayor (Jared Harris), Eggs tries to stop the numbers of his people from dwindling.

Snatcher’s malicious intentions find reason in motivation: To get a white hat that indicates prestige and privilege. Ben Kingsley offers memorable moments as Snatcher, a creepy, embodiment of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s villainous Child Catcher. He is perhaps out-starred by his three amusing sidekicks who are trying to snatch the boxtrolls. Richard Ayoade and Nick Frost voice a pair who bicker about whether they’re on the good or bad side of the situation. Tracy Morgan portrays the other sidekick, a sadistic Mr. Gristle. The villains use a local heartthrob, Madame Frou Frou, as a channel for propaganda.

When we get to the human “good guys,” things get less interesting. The supporting Winnie (Elle Fanning trying her best) is an uninteresting and mild brat. Her father (the Mayor) is too obsessed with the town’s main export, cheese, to pay attention to her. Cheese’s prominence in the screenplay is strange, one character even compares it to a mother’s smile on a warm spring’s day.

The character of Eggs at the film’s heart isn’t captivating. He leads a story of finding belonging. He’s at his funniest when at a public and prestigious dance. Otherwise, much like minions in Despicable Me, the boxtrolls steal the spotlight with their creative language and antics. They’re diverse (one has a pair of dentures) and amusing, particularly Shoe and Eggs’ caretaker, Fish.

The Boxtrolls boasts detailed animation and a unique visual style. For all of its faults – it’s both sporadically gross and boring – it works just fine. It will keep children entertained and it’s clever enough for adults.

Score: 63/100

The World’s End (2013)

The World's EndReleased: August 23, 2013. Directed by: Edgar Wright.  Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman. Runtime: 109 min

Back in 2004, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (director/co-writer, star/co-writer and star, respectively) began their Cornetto trilogy with “Shaun of the Dead,” a satire of zombie flicks. The second in the trilogy came in 2007, called “Hot Fuzz,” a satire of buddy action films. This year, they are back to finish off their trilogy, with “The World’s End,” a satire of apocalyptic and science fiction features.

Gary King (Simon Pegg) is the so-called King of his friends group, when they were seniors in high school. Now, they’ve drifted and are all living individual lives. To gain a sense of achievement, he gathers his old friends to finish what they attempted 20 years ago; The Golden Mile, an epic pub crawl across twelve of their hometown pubs. The World’s End is the last pub on their tour, and reaching that pub becomes the least of their worries – as they unwittingly become humankind’s only hope for survival.

In King’s friends group is Andy Knightley (Nick Frost), Gary’s wingman. Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman) and Peter Page (Eddie Marsan) are the two buddies who were kept around mostly for comic relief; and Steven Prince (Paddy Considine) was Gary’s rival for women’s affection. Joining the guys on their adventure is Oliver’s sister Sam (Rosamund Pike), who Gary and Steven constantly fight over.

The main difference between Gary and the rest of his friends is that they have responsibilities, and he is suffering from Peter Pan syndrome, because he hasn’t yet grown up. Gary’s arc is poignant and emotionally captivating, and it also makes this have a great analysis on the difficulty of aging; or in Gary’s case, not aging. He’s the same old Gary, but he is a funny guy; so that isn’t so bad for the audience.

The friendship between Gary and his wingman, Andy, is well-written. It’s heartbreaking in scenes; and possibly the most emotional relationship shared between the two stars. It’s interesting to see the shoe being put on the other foot for Frost in the trilogy. Both of the characters these stars have portrayed, they have had a lot of growing to do – but Frost’s characters have had, arguably, more memorable arcs from an emotional standpoint. They are both the main characters of each of the film, but Frost has played the slackers and Pegg has played characters that actually have ambitions. It’s interesting to see Pegg as the slacker, and Frost as the successful one.

Wright makes a comment through the characters that people’s hometowns don’t change over the years, but those who leave it do, and when they come back it’s really weird because it feels the same, but many can’t pinpoint why it feels different; and why they feel like strangers in a place once so familiar to them. The story is a fun way to embrace that idea, and answer it in a hilarious and creative way. The film is layered with heart, brain and hilarity – and it’ll keep you guessing throughout. The characters all get their chances to shine, whether they be comic relief or completely badass at kicking otherworldly robotic ass.

The special effects are impressive and there are tons of laughs throughout the film. It has a fun satirical edge, and it’s a blast of a science fiction film. It further complements the fact that the Wright-Pegg-Frost is one of the strongest teams in satirical comedy, and that their films are great satires and wickedly fun additions to the genre. With “The World’s End,” Wright brings his signature directing style, and makes an ambitious and worthy end to his trilogy. I really can’t wait to watch this in a marathon with the others.

Score88/100

 

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Star Trek Into Darkness

Release Date: May 16, 2013

Director: J.J. Abrams

Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana

Runtime: 132 min

Summer 2013 seems like a time for vulnerable heroes. First, Iron Man/Tony Stark of Iron Man 3 experienced anxiety after the events of The Avengers. Now, it’s Captain James Kirk’s time. After losing something he holds dear, he takes his U.S.S. Enterprise crew after a Enterprise agent turned war criminal, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), to settle a personal score. This mission is really bigger than any of them ever expected it to be.

It has become apparent that the plots for Star Trek movies are essentially spaceship wars, where the ship with the biggest guns wins, and it is practically always, the U.S.S. Enterprise. They are also traditional revenge stories; and they don’t elevate above that, because they stick to the formula. These stories are average, but this franchise makes them fun, maybe because it’s a revenge story set in space with big weapons on spaceships. The fun story-lines still don’t make me feel incredibly impressed. That is the reason why, while both of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek films have been well-done, I am not so eager to seek out any of the Star Trek TV shows or movies with Shatner and Nimoy. I’m good with watching Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto rock their roles.

Simon Pegg’s Scotty and newcomer Alice Eve’s Carol become more primary characters of the Enterprise, as well as, of course, Kirk and Spock. However, there isn’t enough of a focus on Uhura (Zoe Saldana) or Bones (Karl Urban), and the mostly secondary characters of Sulu (John Cho) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) become more secondary. While they have critical duties to fulfill, it feels like they have a very limited amount of screen time. Bones is usually the prime comic relief character, and while he does produce a few good yuks; Scotty’s the main comic relief in the movie. Will you hear many complaints about that? Probably not, because Simon Pegg is very funny. The whole crew still works as an ensemble, where Alice Eve makes this sci-fi fun a little more sexy. We are still able to become invested with these characters, where even Vulcans become human. The computer-esque, logical thinking Spock is very likeable; and Quinto is such a strong actor, that you might yearn for more of him in roles where he doesn’t have pointy ears and a bowl-shaped haircut. The layer of emotional vulnerability that is added to Kirk is creative, and so is the contrasting layer added to Spock; where he is afraid to portray specific, all-to-familiar, painful emotions.

Some of the best scenes are emotionally powerful ones, as well as some fun scenes where the crew mostly banters in a hilarious way. While that isn’t good for an action movie, the amusing banter is more than welcome. Some of the action sequences are stunning and usually thrilling. That’s the point, they’re bigger, they’re badder, they’re bolder; even if they don’t feel quite as magical as they did in 2009’s Star Trek. More than a few are forgettable, but some really special ones stand out. The story is mostly easy to follow, even if it has the tendency to be complex.

That is mainly thanks to the main villain, John Harrison. Benedict Cumberbatch is a booming on-screen presence. When Kirk relentlessly hits him, he just stands there without a scratch with a facial expression that asks, “What are you trying to do, puny man?” He’s savage, he’s deadly, he’s brilliant, he’s terrifying. He makes Eric Bana’s Nero look like a forgettable, little mouse. I think it further exemplifies the influence of The Dark Knight‘s Joker on blockbuster, good vs. evil action movies, where writers are now trying to find the next, big, brilliant terrorist mind. This guy just might be him. Cumberbatch is the most memorable part of the movie, and he absolutely dominates every scene. Even when he isn’t on-screen, the audience misses him. This isn’t Pine’s show, not Quinto’s, and not even Abrams’ any longer. He dominates it so well, in fact, it should hereby be known as Benedict Cumberbatch’s Star Trek Into Darkness.

In a nutshell: While I wouldn’t call this 2013’s best film, I will call it 2013’s best action and science fiction movie. There are memorable action scenes, good twists and turns, and amusing dialogue exchanges. The villain outdoes the villain of its predecessor; but I think the crew isn’t utilized as well. To Trekkies, the plot might feel reminiscent of a few prior movies; so contrary to one of the franchise’s most prominent taglines, it’ll feel like it is going where prior movies have gone before. Still, this is really fun summer entertainment.

83/100

Star Trek (2009)

Star Trek

Release Date: May 8, 2009

Director: J.J. Abrams

Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Leonard Nimoy

Runtime: 127 min

Throughout elementary school, my dad would turn on the TV at 5 P.M. to channel 50; the Space channel. That’s the time Star Trek: The Next Generation (or whichever Star Trek TV show it was) would play. I’d make a face and say, “Do we have to watch this?” My dad would reply, “Yes.” Suffice to say, I loathed the show. I comprehend why it has such a fan-base, but man, did it bore me to tears!

If a future me told me that, one day, I’d like, let alone love, a movie that had Star Trek in the title, I would call myself crazy. It looks like I should be calling every mental institution in town; because this Star Trek is freaking awesome!

The brash James T. Kirk tries to live up to his father’s legacy with Mr. Spock keeping him in check as a vengeful, time-traveling Romulan creates black holes to destroy the Federation one planet at a time.

Star Trek is built to introduce a great franchise to a younger generation, and I’m really glad that it’s so great. The viewer doesn’t have to be a Trekkie to understand what’s going on or even enjoy the hell out of it, for that matter. It’s fairly easy to follow, for a movie that has a lot of time-traveling. Even people with little brains who don’t understand science fiction so well would be able to follow this. To me, that’s very cool. Someone doesn’t have to be a Trekkie to enjoy what’s going on, mostly because it’s actually an amazing action movie.

There’s explosions, flying bullets, cool creatures, et cetera. All in space. Sweet! J.J. Abrams is able to bring excellent direction to the feature and some humour to the feature. This makes me want to re-watch all that I’ve seen of Abrams’ work, and re-assess my opinions of some of his movies (Cloverfield, Super 8). He truly brings everything to the table, here; and the movie has some great cinematography and visual effects, as well.

Whilst the film has an excellent pace, I don’t think the story is incredibly impressive. The story is very good for what it is, but it is limited and it doesn’t have much room to elevate itself above a mere revenge story. It has a lot of time travel, but I think the story is only slightly above average. There’s lots of action and some nice drama, and the witticism of it all is very awesome. I think the movie’s strongest aspect are its characters and its ensemble cast.

Chris Pine portrays James T. Kirk this time around, and he’s the great face of the franchise for a new generation. The character becomes suffocated by the shadow of his late father, because he wants to live up to everyone’s expectations. This doesn’t stop him from being very confident and having a good time while performing his duties on the U.S.S. Enterprise. The relationship between he and Spock is a fascinating one. Spock is the main target of the villain Nero (Eric Bana). The Romulan villain is out for vengeance of something Spock did or possibly didn’t do, and that’s what thirsts his anger. Bana is intimidating at the time, but truly forgettable.

Anyway, about Spock. Spock is faced with much emotional turmoil throughout the feature, and it hardly helps that he doesn’t know how to effectively portray – or put into words – what he’s feeling. He’s played awesomely by Zachary Quinto, and I think he and Pine are great to lead the Enterprise. It’s great to watch Quinto, because he reminds me why I spent my time watching every episode of TV’s Heroes (I did that task for Hayden Panettiere, too, though). The rest of the cast (Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Karl Urban, Bruce Greenwood, among many others) helps make the fantastic ensemble. They’re an ideal cast to lead the Enterprise. Simon Pegg is also part of the crew, and his role of Scotty reminds me why I enjoy watching him perform so damn much. He’s perfect for this role, and he brings the most wit to the feature. After he shows up, it becomes that much more entertaining and hilarious.

Star Trek isn’t able to elevate itself above a solid revenge story, but there’s hardly anything wrong with that. This enjoyable film will still appeal to both Trekkies and newbies to the franchise. This is immensely entertaining, a great space adventure, and an excellent action film.

88/100

Happy birthday funny lady, Kristen Wiig (39)

 

Kristen Wiig

Wiig has been voice talents for the films Despicable Me as Miss Hattie and How to Train Your Dragon; and she also showed a decent dramatic side in her small role in the romance/crime film based on true events, All Good Things alongside Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst. She was in the comedy/action British comedy Paul (the poorest film from the Simon Pegg/Nick Frost comedy team), but Wiig is best known for her performance (as Annie) and writing for the 2011 comedy Bridesmaids. She was even nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for her work on Bridesmaids. I enjoy watching her perform, even in the little amount of titles I’ve actually seen her in. I do look forward to seeing more of her.