Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol

Posted on December 15, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence
Profanity: One s-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Constant action-style peril and violence, bombs, guns, chases, explosions, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: December 16, 2011
Date Released to DVD: April 09, 2012 ASIN: B004EPYZUS

The first live-action film from animation director Brad Bird (“The Iron Giant,” “The Incredibles”) is pure adrenalin rush.  It has the best stunts of the year and crackerjack mastery of pace in this fourth “Mission: Impossible” movie.

More “inspired by” than “based on” the 1960’s television series, the series features Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, an agent who operates outside even the ultra-clandestine world of spies.  The most direct tie to the original program is in the presentation of new assignments.  They include video as well as audio four decades later, but the recording still intones, “Your mission, should you decide to accept it…” and end by advising him that if anyone on the team is caught or killed, the US government will disavow any knowledge of the operation.  And then it self-destructs — this time with a witty twist.

We begin with a classic spy setting, a document drop gone very wrong.  There’s a guy with a laptop in a van.  There are guards playing a card game in front of a bank of monitors.  And there’s a field operative in some sort of hallway.  Ethan has to be broken out of a Russian prison, and for some reason it has to happen before the end of the song, “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” by Dean Martin.  A meticulously orchestrated plan is amended on the spot and the guy in the van says, “I don’t know what he’s doing and for some reason I’m helping him.”  What Ethan is doing is bringing another prisoner along with him.  He sticks by his friends, he explains.

After Ethan is in the wrong place at the wrong time and aborts a mission that takes him to the heart of the Kremlin only to be blamed when the whole building blows up, “the Secretary” (Tom Wilkinson) shows up to say that the entire Mission: Impossible force has been shut down and it is time for “ghost protocol,” a mission that is off the books for those who are already operating off the books, kind of a spy version of double secret probation.  I just have to ask — the Secretary of what?  The head of the CIA has the title “Director.”  Cabinet officers are hardly low profile.  But he’s not around long anyway, and with the M:I force disbanded and no time, Ethan has to work with the people already there.  That’s field agent Gorgeous (Paula Patton as Jane), tech guy Comic Relief (Simon Pegg as Benji), and Mystery Guest Who Says He is an Analyst But Fights Like a Field Agent (“The Hurt Locker’s Jeremy Renner, soon to be Hawkeye in “The Avengers,” as Brandt).

They’re after a dangerous guy code-named Cobalt (Michael Nyqvist of the Swedish “Dragon Tattoo” series).  He’s one of those super-villains who is not only off-the-charts brilliant but also in great shape and with outstanding hand-to-hand combat skills.  And if they don’t stop him a lot of very bad stuff is going to happen.  The details are not important; they’re just a delivery system for action and stunts that includes a wild chase though a sandstorm, a crazy fight scene in a parking lot with vertical conveyer belts and revolving platforms (has Bird been consulting with his old boss re “Cars 2?”), a fall into fan shaft, kept just above the sharp blades by a magnet suit, and Ethan’s heart-stopping ascension along the side of  Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, 100 stories above ground with nothing but a pair of very sticky mechanical gloves — and then just one glove.  What’s fun is what goes right — all the cool gadgets and clever plans.  What’s cooler is when things go wrong — mechanical failures and just plain being outsmarted by a very clever bad guy.  Our crew visits world capitals and a secret hideout in a train car and has run-ins with an assassin, a weapons dealer, the Russian police force, and a playboy billionaire.  And of course, as all glamorous spy movies must, there’s also a pause for a big, fancy party so our crew can get all gussied up.  Though I can never figure out why no one at the party ever notices our crew having conversations with the air Patton is spectacularly beautiful.

Renner is terrific in this, playing very well off of Cruise’s intensity and performing the action scenes a Steve McQueen-style economy of motion (I was pleased to see that he is currently working on a biopic of McQueen).  He also shows great comic timing in a scene where he has to force himself to do something dangerous.  I liked the way the story tied into the third in the series (director J.J. Abrams of III was a producer on this one).  But the post-mission coda was under-scripted, with dialog that would have been out of date in the days of the television series.  And even by the low don’t-think-too-hard standards of chase and explosion films, the plot has some big holes.  But no one is buying a ticket for witty repartee or realism.  This is just for fun and it is enormously entertaining.




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Based on a television show Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Series/Sequel Spies

Ten Releases to Look for This Holiday Season

Posted on November 17, 2011 at 8:00 am

This is the busiest time of year for movies with a bunch of holiday releases for families, big-budget and high profile films to check out while shopping or celebrating, and end-of-year prestige films opening in time to be considered for awards.  Here are ten to watch for:

Big Books

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”  The posthumously published trilogy thriller about a crusading journalist and a brilliant but damaged young woman is already an international publishing phenomenon and a faithful and very successful Swedish movie trilogy.  Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara star in the American remake from David Fincher, director of “The Social Network” and “Zodiac.”

“Breaking Dawn: Part 1”  The last of the four books about the romantic triangle between a high school girl, a wolf-man, and a vampire is too big for just one movie.  After three movies about longing, Part 1 has the wedding, the wedding night, and the complications of a vampire pregnancy.

Big Stars

“Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”  Tom Cruise is back and the stunts look wilder than ever in this fourth in the movie series based on the 1960’s television show.

“The Iron Lady”  Meryl Streep plays Margaret Thatcher, or, based on the trailer, it is more accurate to say that Streep transforms into the first woman Prime Minister of the UK, a still-controversial figure who served from 1979-1990.

Sequels and Remakes

“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”  Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law return as Holmes and Watson and Guy Ritchie returns as director as Holmes takes on his most diabolical foe, Professor Moriarty.

“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy”  An all-star cast including Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, and last year’s Oscar-winner Colin Firth appears in this remake of the brilliant BBC miniseries inspired by the “Cambridge Five” case with Soviet agents infiltrating British intelligence.

For the Whole Family

“The Muppet Movie” Jason Segal really, really loves the Muppets and his dream came true when he was given the chance to write and star in the first Muppet feature film in 12 years.  A whole generation who grew up on “The Muppet Show” and “Sesame Street” can’t wait to bring their children to this one and it looks like it will be everything they hope for.

Arthur Christmas” Any time the folks behind “Wallace and Gromit” make a film, I am excited about it.  And this story about Santa’s son saving Christmas looks like a delight.

Likely Oscar Nominees

“The Descendants”  George Clooney plays a father who discovers that his wife has been having an affair in this movie from the director of “Sideways” and “Election.”

“Albert Nobbs” Glenn Close plays a woman in 19th century Ireland who finds that the only way to support herself is to dress as a man and ends up living as a man for three decades.


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Trailers, Previews, and Clips

Tribute: Peter Graves

Posted on March 15, 2010 at 10:13 am

Peter Graves had the square jaw and deep voice of a leading man. His gray hair gave him an aura of, well, gravitas that made him the perfect choice for the head of the Mission: Impossible team in one of the biggest hits of 1960’s television. And it made him the perfect choice to spoof that image of power and authority in Airplane!. The younger brother of “Gunsmoke’s” James Arness, Graves appeared in shlock horror films like “Killers from Space” and “It Conquered the World” and in a memorable role as prisoner of war with something to hide in the Oscar-winning “Stalag 17.” But like his brother, he found his place in a popular television series. And he had a sense of humor about himself, as shown in this charming GEICO commercial. He will be missed.

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Actors Tribute

J.J. Abrams: “Sometimes Mystery is More Important than Knowledge”

Posted on January 11, 2008 at 12:00 pm

At Ted Talks, J.J. Abrams spoke about his lifelong love of mystery because of its “infinite possibility and a sense of potential” and how that passion influences his creation of stories like Lost and the upcoming movie “Cloverfield.”

And here is the first trailer for “Cloverfield, ” a sublime example of a Mystery Box:

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