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Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol

Posted on December 15, 2011 at 7:00 pm

B+
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
Amazon.com 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

Interview: Paula Patton and Laz Alonso of ‘Jumping the Broom’

Posted on May 4, 2011 at 8:00 am

Movies have some magical moments, but some things only happen when everyone is really in the room together.  There were both the night I saw “Jumping the Broom” with an audience mostly made up of students from DC’s Howard University.  The movie, from Reverend T.D. Jakes, is about the wedding of a lawyer from a wealthy family and an investment banker from a working class family, raises universal questions, with clashes on race, class, and money, insecurity, doubt, betrayal, and lies — but also faith, romance, forgiveness, commitment, honor, and love.  When stars Paula Patton and Laz Alonso (a Howard University alum and DC hometown hero) greeted the crowd, the excitement level exploded.  Even after they left, the audience’s appreciation of the film was palpable — this is a movie you want to see with other people to enjoy its masterful mix of comedy, drama, and the resilience of families both well-established and just beginning.

The next morning, they sat down with four critics to talk about the film, starting with what initially drew them to the project.  A script is always a work in progress, but if the blueprint is good then you’ve got something,” said Patton.  She liked the concept of the families from two worlds and playing a character who is flawed and learns to change her ways.  “These movies are not rocket science.  They’re meant to be feel-good and funny and make you happy, and I think it did a wonderful job of that.”

Alonso said he could tell right away the script had the bones of a really good story.  “And then as actors, it is our job to put the meat on the bones.”  He talked about what he learned from the other actors.  “Paula has a work ethic that surpasses even my workaholic work ethic.  And Loretta Devine is a method actress who would yell at me when she would see me in town if I would dare have breakfast and not include my mother.  To this day, I still have to call my mom!  And then you have someone like Salim Akil, who I actually modeled my character after.  He directed “The Game,” “Girlfriends,” “Soul Food,” back in the day.  He is such a classy, strong man.  He is not going to let this film be anything but a classic depiction of these two families, especially my family.  He took my family as his personal responsibility, to show that just because you may not necessarily be wealthy doesn’t mean that you don’t have dignity and you don’t have class.  He didn’t play the stereotypes.”

In the first scene of the movie, Patton’s character realizes that she has not been honoring herself in her relationships with men.  She makes a promise that if God will help her find a good man she will not have sex before marriage.  She and Alonso spoke to us about what that brought to the story.  “For my character, some of the backstory that might not have shown up in the final version of the movie is that he did not grow up very traditional, going to church, but because he fell in love with Sabrina, and she was going to try this approach, he realized that love was more important than any previous beliefs that he had and he was going to put her first,’ said Alonso.  “A lot of times we see very sexualized images with sex coming before romance.  This is kind of a throwback, with romance coming first.”

Patton talked about how her own parents’ marriage brought two very different families together.  “There’s so much drama that goes into bringing two families together.  My mom and dad could not have come from more different families.  My dad was from Mississippi, his parents were sharecroppers; my mom was from Connecticut and her father was an executive at GE.  So I definitely understand two different families coming together and all the drama that ensues — and all the love, and getting past all those things, and realizing your likenesses and through all the struggle that you are family, that you will support each other and count on each other and be this bond in front of God and everyone that you’re going to be together for the rest of your lives, hopefully.”

 

 

 

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