Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

The first Mission Impossible movie was released in 1996, more than 15 years ago, and since then there have been three sequels, including the latest, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. I thoroughly enjoyed the first film in the series, while the second and third follow-ups were decent (in hindsight I think I brainwashed myself into liking them more than I really did). Unfortunately, the fourth film debunked the illusion I had that this was actually a quality franchise.

Ghost Protocol wasn’t terrible by any means, but nor was it that good. I was disappointed in the direction director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, The Iron Giant) took the film. He comes from a childish background if you will, and I think it was reflected in the film. In the first Mission Impossible, the mood was dark, mysterious, and obscure. Now, four films later (each with a different director), the series has devolved into a transparent, shallow, and self-serving franchise, which has replaced a sense of despair, which dominated the first film but has since faded with unnecessary comic relief.

It’s not surprising that the franchise has shown inconsistencies, that will happen with four different directors at the helm, but it is frustrating to see them trying to hang on to storylines and characters established in prior films to give viewers a trivial sense of continuity. 

For instance, in Ghost Protocol, they briefly reference Ving Rhames’ character, Luther Stickell, who has been a part of the franchise since the first film. Unfortunately, he was totally overlooked in this film other than a brief cameo appearance at the end. The same can be said of Michelle Monaghan’s character, Julia (the main character’s wife), who played such an critical part in MI:III’s storyline. In Ghost Protocol, she is talked about a bit, and is onscreen in the closing scene of the film. To me, it was too little too late. She was too easily written off and then briefly used to tease the audience at the end, something I found to be an unnecessary detail and somewhat insulting.

Another thing I didn’t care for was Tom Wilkinson’s unaccredited role as the IMF Secretary. I adore Wilkinson as an actor and think he is a tremendous talent. To see him used in such a frivolous fashion, namely that he is onscreen for maybe five minutes before being dispatched, was frustrating. It’s like the franchise wants to get as many big names in the film as possible.

With that said, Ghost Protocol totally glossed over other characters from the first three films (you’ll have to excuse me if some of these characters were killed off, can’t recall) such as Zhen Lei (Maggie Q), Theodore Brassel (Laurence Fishbourne), Lindsey Farris (Keri Russel), Declan Gormley (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), and John Musgrave (Billy Crudup), just to name a few. The point I’m trying to get at is the Mission Impossible franchise has a history of big-name actors, and it’s a shame to see them either fall by the wayside or be utterly underused. I had hope MI:III’s cast would return as supporting characters to give the latest film a foundation and credibility, but other than Benji Dunn, played by Simon Pegg (the comic relief referenced earlier), that wasn’t the case.

Instead, they introduced several new character including Brandt, played by Jeremy Renner. I usually like Renner as an actor, but his role in Ghost Protocol was superfluous. He wasn't introduced until about halfway into the film and there seemed to be a little bit of mystery surrounding him. That was eventually revealed, and it was about as anticlimactic as it could have been. In my opinion, the film would have been pretty much been the same without Renner in it.

As far as the story’s premise, which you can read about on IMBD, it wasn’t original and not very engaging. Don’t get me wrong, the threat of global nuclear war is terrifying, but it wasn’t executed that well. Hard to be terrified when comic relief is inserted into some of the most dramatic moments.

The best thing going for Ghost Protocol, as is the case with all the Mission Impossible movies, is the action. Tom Cruise reprises his role as Ethan Hunt in a performance that was neither impressive nor disappointing, I guess you could say he was satisfactory as an action star (he probably doesn’t have too many years left for such roles).

I will admit that the whole swinging from the Burj Khalifa, the world’s largest building located in Dubai, was exhilarating. Cruise actually did the stunt and it is purely insane. I’d never do it, and while I think it’s crazy for someone else to, I enjoyed watching it. This is one of a few moments in the film that actually mesmerized, though you have to wade through quite a bit of nonsense to get to it.

If you’re looking to numb your brain with some entertaining action sequences, fight scenes, and chases, then Ghost Protocol will fit the bill. Just realize you won’t be getting much in the department of character development and plot.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 52%

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Girl With the Tramp Stamp Tattoo

After a movie industry lull between late October and early December, where there were very few movies released that I actually wanted to see, I was excited when The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo came out on December 20. I wasn’t too familiar with the story (I had never read the novel by Stieg Larsson, nor did I see the Swedish version of the film); nonetheless, I bought into the hoopla, media campaign, and general excitement that surrounded the film.

I saw the film over the holiday season and my local AMC Theater was packed. There’s something about the communal experience of seeing a film that makes it all the better; in fact, that's why I love going to the movies after all these years. I’m not going to delve too much into the plot (visit if you want those details), but I will tell you what I liked, or didn’t like, about the movie.

First and foremost, the cast was superb. Daniel Craig was more than adequate as Mikael Blomkvist, but the real star of the show was Rooney Mara as the girl with the dragon tattoo, Lisbeth Salander. You may remember Mara for her bit role in the Social Network as Mark Zuckerburg’s girlfriend in the opening scene of that film. Director David Fincher, who also directed the Social Network, must have seen a diamond in the rough . . . and he was right.

Mara, who usually appears wholesome and somewhat innocent, transformed herself for the title role, morphing into a pale, emo, self-admittedly insane investigator. There is something disturbing about Mara’s character that is also strangely attractive (as many of the characters in the film find out). The gratuitous sex scenes (minus a disconcerting rape scene), which reveals as much of Mara as any man could hope, were certainly a nice touch. This will no doubt prove to be Mara’s breakout role and establish her as a major actress in Hollywood. She very well could get an Oscar nomination for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but if not, it’ll be only a matter of time before she takes home a statue.

I also enjoyed the performances of Stellan Skarsgård and Christopher Plummer. The former plays Martin Vanger and was stellar as always. I’ve been a Skarsgård fan for a while, most notably for his roles in Deep Blue Sea and as Bootstrap Bill in the Pirates of the Caribbean series. He tows the line between sympathetic and menacing as well as anyone could, and he displays that well in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

In regards to Plummer, if there was a Hollywood illuminati, he would be a charter member. The man is a remarkable actor and only gets better with age. Unfortunately, his role as Henrik Vanger was quite limited and he was only onscreen for about 20 minutes of the film’s 158-minute run time. With that said, he lit up the screen during that time as an ailing businessman looking for closure on a mysterious disappearance 40 years in the making.

The acting was only the tip of the iceberg as far as things going for this film. The story was compelling, complete with a surprise ending (though a clever man, much like myself, could figure it out, which I did). It takes a lot to keep my attention for two and a half hours, but The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo did just that. The visuals were great, with the various locations in Sweden were nothing short of exquisite (the movie was filmed during Sweden’s coldest winter in 20 years). Rumor has it they want to convert Larsson’s other two books to the big screen, and if this first film is any indication, that’s a great idea.

In conclusion, if you’re looking to go to the movies for a good thriller/mystery, look no further than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. While it has little replay value, as is the case with most any mystery/thriller, it is well worth the price of admission and one of the better movies I’ve seen in the latter half of 2011. 

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 90%

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