Tag Archives: Spy

“MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT” Review (✫✫✫✫)

CREIDT: Paramount Pictures

Good intentions don’t belong in the espionage business.

How many film franchises can you name that have six entries in them? I myself can recall six of them: Star Wars, Star Trek, Superman, X-Men, Lord of the Rings, and Fast & Furious. I can name you several movies from these series’, each of them consequentially getting worse the more they go on. Few of their sixth installments compare to the originals, and none of them are the best in their franchises. I can only name one film that is not only superior to the original, but is also the best entry in their franchise. That film is Mission Impossible: Fallout. 

Picking up a few years after the events of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Fallout finds Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) on the pursuit of an evil organization called “The Apostles”, trying to stop them from stealing plutonium and starting a nuclear war (as if Ethan would be doing anything else?). This new venture finds Ethan re-teaming up with some old friends including Luther (Ving Rhames), Benji (Simon Pegg), and Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), as well as some new faces including CIA director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) and Agent Walker (Henry Cavill).

What do you need to know about Mission Impossible: Fallout? Well for one thing, it’s just like every other Mission Impossible movie out there. Tom Cruise’s sickeningly good-looking mug? Check. Supporting cast that serves as the comedic relief? Check. Evil super villain? Check. A pretty-looking love interest? Check. Shocking plot twists? Check. Ridiculously over-the-top superhuman stunts that only Tom Cruise can seemingly pull off? Triple check. If it’s been in another Mission Impossible movie, it’s definitely here in Fallout.

And yet, Fallout is infinitely more exhilarating than its peers are. Yes, dear reader: even more so than the first Mission Impossible or Ghost Protocol. Why is that? Well like with any great action movie, the key is in its execution, and Fallout is executed here masterfully.

While the plot is relatively straightforward and similar to its predecessors, the stunts and spectacles are pulled off with a conviction that makes them feel urgent and enthralling. I’ve seen all of the Mission Impossible movies, each of them with breathtaking visual feats, from the vault scene in the first movie to scaling the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Ghost Protocol. In each of these movies, the sensational spy action punctuates a picture filled with espionage and intrigue, all while not losing its energy in the process. Fallout is unique to its peers because its excitement and intrigue lasts throughout the picture, barely slowing down for us to even catch our breaths. From the opening firefight to the last spectacular struggle on a cliff edge, Fallout is a movie that racks up the tension with every passing minute: like a time bomb clicking downward.

Then there’s Tom Cruise himself, who seems incapable of slowing down even for a second in both the movies and real life. He’s been a part of this series for well over 20 years now. How does he retain the enthusiasm to not only keep coming back to the same role, but to keep eclipsing his last physical feat film after film after film? I think it’s because like his character Ethan Hunt, he’s unable to leave the past behind and always feels like there’s something left unfinished. With most franchises, some actors will return to recurring roles just to get another paycheck or another press tour. I feel like Cruise is one of those actors that is motivated to keep outdoing himself with each role that he accepts. The stunts he pulls off in this film are so ridiculous that he even injured himself during one of the shoots late last year. The guy is 56 years old, as old as both of my parents. Yet he seems more enthusiastic for this franchise now than he did when he was in his 30’s when he first started.

The film is written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who seems to be sharpening his technique in a crowd full of writers-turned-filmmakers. His first collaboration with Cruise in 2012’s Jack Reacher was fun albeit straightforward, while the last Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation seemed way too preposterous to be taken seriously, even by IMF’s standards. Fallout is a reckoning for both McQuarrie and the Mission Impossible franchise. It not only brings together the greatest elements from all of the Mission Impossible films, but it makes you forget that it’s even part of a franchise and immerses you masterfully in the tension of the moment.

Fallout is the sixth movie in the Mission Impossible franchise, but it’s so hot-blooded and exciting that it feels like it’s the first in a breakthrough: a rebirth, if you will. There was one moment in the picture when Benji asks Ethan how close they were to failing the mission. Ethan laughs: “The usual.”

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“MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION” Review (✫✫1/2)

More like a city, or a gated community.

I’m really starting to get sick of these action movies. I know, I know, how do I get sick of action? Well, have you ever seen a television episode over, and over, and over again to the point where it frustrated you just to look at it? That’s where I’m at with these action movies that are getting recycled summer after summer after summer.

I was really hoping Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation wasn’t going to be another recycled action pic. Truthfully, I wasn’t expecting it. The film is at a 93% from critics on RottenTomatoes, while users rate it at a 91%. Metacritic users rate it an 8 out of 10. Cinemascore polls it at an A-. Everyone around me seems to be fervently enjoying the action romp that is Mission Impossible. Everyone, that is, except me.

So what happened? Simply put, I think audiences were expecting something different from me. I’ve seen four of these movies now before watching Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, and with each one, I got something different. The first Mission Impossible pitted a younger Ethan Hunt against two opposing spy agencies, along with the gravity of seeing his entire team get killed on a deadly mission. The third Mission Impossible found Hunt breaking out of retirement to rescue his wife, who was held captive at the hands of a cruel terrorist threat. The fourth Mission Impossible found Ethan dealing with his wife’s death after the events of MI3. We won’t count Mission Impossible II, because that’s not a real Mission Impossible movie.

With Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Ethan Hunt (once again, portrayed by Tom Cruise) is pitted against both his own government and yet another secret spy agency named the Syndicate, comprised of insurgent IMF agents labeled as either missing or dead. That’s it. He has no personal investment in the story, no driving emotional force that focuses on him and him only. At one point in the movie, one of his closest friends gets kidnapped by the syndicate and he starts freaking out about it. Right. How many times did someone get kidnapped in your other movies, Ethan?

His supporting characters includes most of his crew from the fourth Mission Impossible. Ving Rhames is back as Vincent, returning once again to help Ethan Hunt since their first mission in the original Mission Impossible. The comedic relief Benji is once again portrayed by self-employed funny man Simon Pegg. Jeremy Renner returns as William Brandt, acting as Ethan’s voice of reason against all of his crazy ideas of stunts. Considering Cruise does all of his own stunts, I think Renner needs to be his voice of reason off-screen as well.

The first thing you need to know about Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is that the visuals do not disappoint. The one thing every movie in the series is most known for is its spectacle, and Rogue Nation keeps the tradition going strong. In one fight scene early in the film, Ethan was fighting a swarm of syndicate agents while handcuffed at both his wrists and ankles. In another, he’s quietly struggling against a sniper on top of a German opera production while the performance is still going on. My favorite is probably when he has to hold his breath under water for six minutes in what is essentially an underwater hard drive as he switches out two data disks. It’s important to note, Cruise actually trained with a diving specialist in order to hold his breath under water for three minutes. The sequence we see in the film was actually shot in one take with no edits.

The stunts we see in the film are impressive to say the least. The danger with a fifth entry, however, is that I’ve been impressed four times already. Whatever stunts are to come, I’m already expecting. And since I’ve seen these crazy stunts in four movies now, the effect is dulled before I even see it.

For instance, the big stunt people were excited for in this movie specifically was a sequence where Cruise is holding on outside of an airplane while it is taking off. Impressive as it was, it was the very first scene in the movie. Since I’ve already seen the trailer, I know Cruise survives this sequence, otherwise why would we even have a movie? How am I supposed to feel tension and excitement in a scene where I already know what’s going to happen?

The cast is appropriate, but ineffective. They serve the same roles they’ve done from other movies and that’s about it. How is Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt? The same he’s been for four movies now. How is Jeremy Renner? About as good as he was in Ghost Protocol, except now he’s less interesting because he doesn’t have the investment and guilt he had in Ghost Protocol. Pegg is the same. Rhames is the same. The only characters that are different are the new characters, which includes its baddie played by Sean Harris and its discount Bond girl played by Rebecca Ferguson. Again, what do these characters have to offer that we haven’t seen before? The late Phillip Seymour-Hoffman did a better job manipulating and pushing Ethan past his limits in the J.J. Abrams-directed Mission Impossible III than Harris did in this movie. And Ferguson? Did she not see Emmanuelle Béart in her brilliantly deceptive performance in the original Mission Impossible?

I caught myself saying one thing over and over again during the film: “I’ve seen this before.” For a movie series that’s lasted past five films, that’s not a good thing. Funny, this movie is written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who is responsible for writing The Usual Suspects and Edge of Tomorrow and directing Jack Reacher, all films with their own unique interest and personality. Now he has made Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, and like Ethan’s assigned missions, his movie blew up in my face after it gave me what it was supposed to.

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“MISSION IMPOSSIBLE II” Review (✫✫)

So ridiculous, it can only happen in a movie.

I wonder what it would be like to write action scenes in a screenplay. Not briefly, mind you, but over an extended period of time. We are so used to these action movies that contain nothing but wall-to-wall action, violence, exploding, shooting, stabbing, kicking, punching, and body-dropping all over the place. Few of those movies have worthwhile plot or dialogue to them, which are the main tools a screenwriter uses when writing their screenplay. I imagine writing an action movie for them would be a nightmare. There’s nothing interesting to write about except for who dies next.

I feel especially sorry, then, for screenwriter Robert Towne, who is normally known for his smart, driving plots found in movies like Chinatown, The Firm, indeed, even the first Mission Impossible, now stuck to writing about nothing but explosions, gunfire, broken bones, ribs, limbs, and jaws, with a little twinge of intrigue placed somewhere in this muck of explosions and action. Mission Impossible II is not the movie that the first Mission Impossible was. The first Mission Impossible had memorable characters, iconic situations, and an in-depth and mysterious plot that kept your interest for every second of that movie. Its sequel Mission Impossible II has nothing the first one had except for its action. The characters, while likable, are also disposable, and lack any emotional conviction to make me really care for anyone for a long period of time. The plot is utterly pointless. Like this movie, it exists only to provide reason for the action, rather than the other way around.

MI2 follows agent Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) pursuit of an ex-IMF agent named Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), who is impersonating Hunt through the same face-masks from the first film. What is Ambrose after, and what does Hunt’s identity have to do with it? He is after a harmful chemical known as “Chimera”, a terrible virus that infects the host in a matter of hours, takes his cells, eats them, and kills the host as slowly and painfully as possible. The doctor who made this is named Vladmir Nekhorvich (Rade Serbegija), and he has been a close friend of Hunt’s for some unknown period of time now (Although he keeps calling him “Dimitri”, for some  reason).

This film is directed by John Woo, who is mostly known for his ridiculous, overly-long, overly-explosive action scenes in his movies. His action scenes are so ridiculous, that he makes Michael Bay shrivel up in his seat. This movie is no exception. Mission Impossible II is just as explosive, outlandish, insane, exhilarating and visually stellar as any other John Woo movie is, and that includes movies such as Broken Arrow and Face/Off.

On one hand, this is a good thing, considering Woo makes some incredible action sequences at some moments in this movie. I remember one scene where Tom is fighting off countless professional assassins in a chemical building while trying to destroy a sample of “Chimera” in the process. That gunfight was insane. Cruise was fighting off countless assassins with grenades, Uzi-Subs, and M-104’s, and what does Tom have to fight off against them? A pistol. It is these impossible odds that stacks up the action scenes to incredible heights, and makes for very entertaining, exciting moments in this movie.

Unfortunately, Woo focuses too much on the action. The difference between this film and his earlier film Face/Off is that Face/Off had a smart, original, and fascinating plot, while Mission Impossible II just copies elements from other action films. Stop me if you’ve seen any of this before: A) A Bond-type action hero that beats bad guys to a pulp and always gets the girl, all while looking incredibly sexy to the female audience with his long hair flowing freely in the wind, B) The hero falling madly in love with a woman who is just as sexy to the male population as the hero is to the female, C) The hero eventually having to rescue the damsel from distress, D) The sinister villain is introduced and narrates a plan so ridiculous, it can only happen in movies, E) An excruciating length of a 40 minute action sequence takes place, F) The villain dies at the end of the movie, and G) The hero and his lover kiss at the end of the movie and walk into the sunset in a “Happily Ever After” kind of concluding tone.

Could that entire paragraph be technically considered a spoiler? No, it can’t, because we’ve all seen that movie before. Is it really so surprising that the villain dies, and the woman is saved from danger at the end of the movie? Is it really so shocking? You might enjoy seeing the same thing over and over again, but I can’t stand it. I can’t stand movies that have a method to it. I can’t stand movies that follow formulas. Granted, I don’t want a movie where the villain lives and the hero dies with his love next to him, but geez, throw something unpredictable in there. Action without point is no action at all. It is just headaches.

That’s not to say that the strong points still don’t hold up to what we expect them to be. I already said the action is amazing, and it is. The music has definitely improved from the last movie, and Hans Zimmer inserts a nice rock twist to the famous theme that made the series iconic by right. Cruise especially shines in this movie just as much as he did in the first movie. In the first sequence he’s introduced in, Cruise makes an impossible rock climb over a canyon in nothing but a sleeveless shirt and a waist pouch with gripping dust in it. Remember something here: that’s not CGI, and that’s not a stunt double. Cruise is doing his own stunts, meaning he actually free-climbed up this deathly-high slab of rock. I think he secretly has a death wish for pulling off stunts as stupidly risky as this, but I hold my respect to him for having the audacity to even think about pulling off a stunt like that. It is moments like that that really impresses the audience, and what I think, makes Cruise a very credible and successful actor. He’s willing to pull off whatever he can in order to impress the audience.

But the strong points of this film pales to the weaknesses. Mission Impossible II is all style, and no substance. It has plenty of action, explosions, and body counts to overwhelm you with, but it lacks interest and consistency in between the action scenes with its stupid dialogue, and its plot that is as incredulous and predictable as any other action film can be. I’ve said before that I don’t mind action films as long as they are good ones. This is an ambitious one, but it’s too similar to other action movies to say it’s a “good” one. In the end, this movie to me is like a magician trying to con you at the circus. He shows off its tricks to you, but when he’s done, he turns and says to you “Sorry kid, no refunds”.

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“THIS MEANS WAR” Review (✫1/2)

Spy vs Spy in the most imbecilic way possible.

I hate formula movies.  I hate em, I hate em, I hate em.  They are predictable, repetitive, and annoying in nature, deafening and forgettable by default.  It doesn’t matter what genre its from: if it follows the formula, premise, or plot-line of another film, it is automatically doomed for failure.  You’ve never heard of Mac and Me because it isn’t E.T., and you don’t remember The Mummy because it isn’t Indiana Jones.  Why on earth, then, would we remember this when we already have movies like Rush Hour, Lethal Weapon, and Men In Black?

This Means War is one of those movies that follows its formula so strictly, it treats its premise like its their only chance of survival.  Imagine the movie like the sinking Titanic, and the small plank of wood (the formula) is the actor’s only hope of survival.  Director McG should have actually seen Titanic though: the plank of wood didn’t have the strength to support its two leads.  What makes McG think that here it would support three?

This Means War follows the story of two CIA agents: partners, allies, goody-goody beer buddies.  FDR (Chris Pine) is an active womanizer who is always on the lookout for new jailbait.  Tuck (Tom Hardy) is his less-lucky friend who is divorced, has a son, and struggles to even find a date.  Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) is a bold, intelligent, and beautiful product-testing agent who struggles to find love.  Oh boy.

These are our characters: one of them a pleasure-seeking playboy and the other two romantically hopeless until they discover online dating.  And when Tuck arranges for a date online with the beautiful, yet oblivious, Lauren, their date leads to another coincidence encounter that could only happen in a movie: FDR, who just happened to be looking for a video in the rental store when he ran into Lauren.  From there, you can predict what the movie is: a spy-romantic-action-“comedy” about two expert CIA agents fighting over the same girl.

Har har har, hee hee hee.  How original.  Hasn’t this been done before?  How many times have we seen movies, television shows, novels, and even comic books about competing love interests?  I’m all for the buddy-cop-turns-rivalrous-romance gag, but the material in the story must be funny and/or clever in order for it to back up its lack of originality.

Expect none of that humor, wit, or emotion in this movie.  This Means War is mind-numbing, a sterile, unfunny, and idiotic film that tries to win us over with confidence and charisma, but instead rubs us off with immaturity and annoyance.  There’s no reason to care for these characters.  The emotion is artificial.  All of the jokes are unfunny, and they dilute to topics as silly and insignificant as alcohol in a baby’s bottle, or sex jokes involving Cheetos.  No, that was not a typo.  Think of how many jokes you can make about a small, orange, stubby-shaped object.  I’ll bet Chester was happy to hear about the product placement, though.

The greatest hinderance of this movie is its writing, where every single line of dialogue carries over its insincerity and its dependency on its paper-thin premise.  The dialogue is so shockingly dumbfounded that I wanted to rub my fingernails on the chalkboard owned to whoever taught these screenwriters how to write.  The smartest lines of dialogue in the film include something like “What do you do when you don’t know what to do?” or “You have the intelligence of a fifteen year old boy!”.  Well, at least we’re on the same page here.

The only redeeming factor of this movie is the cast, who at times deliver their lines with whimsicality and good humor.  Even then though, their roles are wasted.  Their characters are so stupid, half-witted, and immature that they could only be artificial.  Take, for instance, Reese Witherspoon’s character.  How is it that a woman like her gets all of these advances and radical emotional changes from both of these guys, yet she continues to remain so clueless and oblivious like she’s out on a first date?  Explosions go off and these guys go kung-fu on each other and you still think they’re just travel agents?  Sorry, I’m not buying that.

Do I really need to elaborate any more here?  I’ve already said why This Means War is terrible, and I hope my point is made.  The chemistry is flat, plastic, and unbelievable, the dialogue, even more so.  The plot is stock, unoriginal, and lifeless.  The visual effects are so bad, you can see the CG on a car when it goes flying from an explosion.  The villains, especially, are extremely lackluster and uninspired.  What is more stock, for instance, than a Russian baddie trying to get revenge at two secret agents who killed his brother?

This, from the same guy who gave us We Are Marshall.  What happened to McG?  He was so great with that film, filling it with so much life and emotion.  Terminator Salvation, preposterous as it may be, was also darkly atmospheric and marginally entertaining.  Now, he’s here scraping the bottom of the barrel with This Means War, giving us no sanctuary from conventionalism, but instead, wooden planks to float on it.  Let it sink, McG.  Please.  Let it sink.

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“SKYFALL” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Old dog: new tricks.  

You’re not gonna see this one coming.  No matter what you expect to get from Skyfall, I promise you it isn’t what you expect it to be.  Yeah, its a high-adrenaline action film featuring Daniel Craig, yet again, as the double-daring, martini-sipping secret agent known as James Bond. I think we all pretty much understood that from the film’s trailer.  But oh, is the experience much more than just being a simple action film.  Much more.

Skyfall takes place a few years after the events of Quantum of Solace.  After a bomb threat has been declared on the headquarters of MI6, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is ordered by M (Judi Dench) to find and apprehend the ex-MI6 operative known as Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a cyberterrorist who has some deepening grudges with Bond’s superior officer.  As Bond begins to follow the trail and find out who Silva really is, he uncovers a secret in his past so haunting that it will impact the entire nation of Britain and shake the foundations of MI6 forever.

Here is a Bond movie lived to the fullest potential, an action movie that begins with a sensational chase sequence and refuses to let up on the excitement as the movie progresses.  Written by John Logan (Gladiator, The Last Samurai) and directed by Sam Mendes (Jarhead, 1999 best picture winner American Beauty), Skyfall is a full-blooded action film, a spy movie that completely embodies everything great about Bond, from the lively, exotic locations to the pulse-pounding action that overflows you by the minute.

But this film doesn’t just succeed as another action movie: it also brilliantly serves its purpose as a drama piece.  Being one of the more personal and more deeper Bond films to date, Skyfall is a profoundly mature film that has a deeper introspective into Bond than what we were expecting.  Unlike other Bond movies (including the dreary Quantam Of Solace), where Bond is just an emotionless action hero that goes through the motions, Bond actually has an arc in this movie when compared to other ones.  In the film, Bond struggles with both his morality and past, and both of these conflicts come into full circle in ways nobody expects nearing the end of the film.

The film remembers something important that Quantum Of Solace has forgotten: that James Bond isn’t just an action hero.  He’s a movie character that holds a popularity entirely in his own bracket, a character who holds an iconic presence similar to how Indiana Jones does in his own series.  Daniel Craig inhabits the role well in Skyfall, and shows us the truth about James Bond: that he’s at a level of character fascination entirely in his own caliber.

At the same time though, it isn’t just the hero that makes the film what it is: the villain must be equally as motivated, and interesting, as the main character is.

Enter Javier Bardem as Silva, a villain who is as imposing and daunting as the action itself is.  Bardem is brilliant and chilling as Silva, a man whose past and pains haunt him, M, and Bond through the history that he remembers.  This shouldn’t come as a big surprise.  He did, after all, portray Felix in 2002’s Collateral and Anton Chigurh in his Oscar-winning performance for No Country For Old Men.  Here, he’s just as chilling as ever as a villain who is as deceitful, conniving, and crafty as Silva.  He’s one of the more memorable Bond villains to date, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was in the top five for IGN’s top 25 Bond Villains list.

This is a great movie.  The cast is great, the plot is fresh, the action is refined and thrilling, and the story is told through the lens of cinema master Roger Deakins as he flows from one beautiful shot to another.  There is much to love about this movie.

The only weakness, if there is one, is that the film doesn’t go deep enough.  The idea of Skyfall is great, the idea being that Bond is mortal and vulnerable and, like all of the other characters and villains in the Bond series, has a history where his issues have not been resolved.  Writer John Logan was brilliant for making this idea, and Mendes was smart in heading into this great direction.

The problem is that he doesn’t go deep enough.  The film dominates as an action movie, and granted, its a great action movie.  Still though.  Hasn’t there been other action movies that have been as deep and profound as they were exciting and fun?  Inception, for instance.  The Dark Knight.  The Terminator.  The Bourne Identity.  Movies like these succeed not only as action movies, but as compelling dramas.  Skyfall has a tint of that “drama” category, but it could have gone deeper.  It might seem like a small thing, but that’s all it takes.  One small thing would have turned Skyfall from just another great action movie into an instant classic.

This is a weakness on the film’s part, but am I really going to hold it against Bond?  No.  I am not.  Despite the supposed weaknesses, Skyfall is a fantastic thriller.  It revives Bond in ways similar to how Batman was revived in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy, and it assures us that not only will Bond survive throughout the years as cinema progresses: it will also thrive on its success and its legacy.

P.S.: You will never guess what Skyfall actually is in the movie.  Seriously.  You will never guess.

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