Friday, April 27, 2012

Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol

I remember seeing the first Tom Cruise version of Mission Impossible many years ago. I was turned off right away because his team members were killed off, and it was just Ethan Hunt. How can you have a Mission: Impossible without a team?
I came back for Ghost Protocol, which is number 4 in the franchise, and this time they get it right. Cruise is very good, and his teammates make him better, particularly, well, all of them: Jeremy Renner as William Brandt, Jane Carter as Paula Patton, and Simon Pegg as Benji Dunn. Together they make an awesome,if not mistaken-laden team. And therein lies the fun.
Hunt and the IMF are implicated in the bombing of the Kremlin, which means Ethan Hunt and his new team have to go rogue to take down one really bad terrorist, Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist). "Ghost protocol" is the code word under which the IMF is disavowed.
Some of the stunts here are just unbelievable. Walking up a building. A car chase in a sandstorm. Stuff you've never seen before. And you wonder how they'll pull it off. Well, sometimes they don't, but that only endears us to these individuals who eventually become a team.
It's one exciting scene after another, with beautiful locations thrown in, and a few surprises along the way. Well done!
Thumb's up.

Monday, April 23, 2012


Things aren't going well for Adam, a 27-year-old man who works behind the scenes at a radio station. He has just discovered he has a rare form of cancer that may or may not be treatable. His girlfriend isn't really in the moment, and instead seems more obsessed with her career. His mother doesn't take bad news like this well. And his best friend is scheming on how
to use the news to pick up women.
If you're wondering where all this can lead, it leads to wonderful places in this very engaging half-comedy, half-drama. Joseph Gordon Levitt is about as perfect as one can be in a situation like this: angry, yet unable to express himself. The story, the screenplay, and the actor, hit every note.
Seth Rogen is also someone to watch here. Terribly inappropriate, he has to tell himself to back off the profanity so that girls won't slink away from him. Rogen is funny all by himself, but when paired with his straight man, Levitt, he's even better.
I learned so much from this film. It stays with me even now, a few days later. Thumb's up.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mirror Mirror

As if you had to be told, Mirror Mirror is a new take on the Snow White fable. It features a brand new fresh face in Lily Collins as Snow, but all the attention is on Julia Roberts as the evil queen. Snow's father, the King, disappears while in the woods one day, and she is forced to grow up imprisoned in the castle due to her stepmother's decree. She's pretty much raised by a cook in the kitchen, who tells her that she's the rightful heir to the crown, that she should buck-up with confidence, and venture out into the outlying town to see how the townspeople are doing. While out there, she meets a prince (Armie Hammer) who has seen better days: he's hanging upside down sans most of his clothing, as he was waylaid by seven dwarves. Most of these moments are played for jokes. Some are pretty funny while most miss their mark. In fact, when we meet the Queen (Roberts), she's making quip after quip, but there's no one there to appreciate her wit, except perhaps her right-hand man, Brighton (Nathan Lane), and even he daren't laugh. There are some new things to see here, and it's all visually a treat. However, the whole telling is very ponderous, and somehow the movie seems much too long. The problem, it seems, is that there's not much there there, so we're treated to quips by the Queen, over and over, which gets wearisome. Roberts is quite believable as an aging, wicked queen. Collins is something to watch as Snow. And our seven little people are quite entertaining, each of them with his own personality and gift. Hammer is a jewel, handsome but a little dumb and witless, but earnest. And Lane is quite funny, as only Nathan Lane can be. I sense that young children would like Mirror Mirror. However, we adults were glancing constantly at our watches. Thumb'
s down.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Hunger Games

It's a dim future, where the government determines that, in punishment for uprisings among the 12 districts 70 years ago, one boy and one girl from each are chosen from a lottery and will fight to the death until one remains. All on television.

You won't recognize any of the kids from this movie, chances are, except for the lead girl, Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence (so memorable in Winter's Bone). The adult roles, though, are played by seasoned veterans like Stanley Tucci as the TV spokesman, Caesar, and Woody Harrelson, as Katniss' mentor, Haymitch. Both of these veteran male actors bring volumes to their parts, and add so much to the storytelling.

It took me awhile to get into the story, but that's because it starts out very slowly, painting a dismal picture of a world full of fading hope, where food is hard to come by, and their children are at risk every year. What's interesting about this film is how much build-up there is to the games. It seemed that half the film was devoted to the preparation of the 24 kids for the games. Measurement, honing of skills, mentoring. And that's fascinating. When the games begin, you wonder how any of them can survive.

Since the youngest can be 12, I thought it amazing that there were no 12-year-olds, save Primrose, Katniss' young sister, who was chosen but for whom Katniss took her place. Everyone else seemed to be 16 or 17. And they all seemed like killing machines, save for Katniss' district male counterpart, Peeta, who only has one thing going for him: strength. Strength doesn't help much in the forest, which is where they're placed. As it's pointed out to the "tributes," many die just because of wounds sustained while in the wilderness. And, if that weren't enough, government forces change a few things, just to make it interesting. After all, it's prime time.

This is a fascinating look into a future that prizes fashion and entertainment above all. Are we there yet? Do we enjoy reading these books, watching this movie, just to see teenager hunt down and kill teenager? I'm not sure.

But, definitely, this is a thumb's up.


Friday, April 06, 2012


Immortals is like nothing you've ever seen before. However, I don't really mean that in a good way.

This is one of the darkest movies I've ever seen, filled with senseless brutality -- the 300 type of brutality, only without the slow-motion. The story, while it sounds rather simple, has more characters than the plot knows what to do with. The sets, except for one incredibly detailed, magnificent set at the end, are gray and filled with cliffs. Theseus (Henry Cavill), a mere mortal and poor to boot, is chosen by Zeus (Luke Evans) to lead the fight against the ruthless, usually masked King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), who is seeking to gain a hidden crossbow, a weapon that can destroy any building its bows penetrate. However, Zeus doesn't want his children involved in helping mankind -- he wants them to do it on their own. Such a decision has its own consequences.

Oh, and Titans are involved, too, but those scenes involving them are among the most thrilling at the end of the movie, when Zeus and his Gods decide to turn them back once Hyperion releases them. There are several very good fight scenes, especially involving Theseus, but these scenes with the Gods are quite spectacular. And I do like Luke Evans' gravitas.

Mickey Rourke is always a different kind of villain, and if you like butchery, he'll be among your favorites. For an old man, he still looks quite muscular. Cavill is also quite beefy as Theseus, and it's great to see a glimpse of the future Superman, even if he does have a British accent.

All in all, however, Immortals is too dark, stark and meandering for me. Thumb's down.

Monday, April 02, 2012

The Three Musketeers

Yes, you're surprised: there was a new Three Musketeers movie, made just last year. I'll bet you've never heard of it. There is a reason why. Or several.

There have been many Three Musketeers movies. Probably the ones you remember are the 1993 version with Kiefer Sutherland as Athos, Charlie Sheen as Aramis, and Rebecca deMornay as Lady d'Winter, and the older version from 1973, which featured Oliver Reed as Athos, Richard Chamberlain as Aramis, and a very comedic Raquel Welch as Constance. I actually loved both versions. They were each whimsical, funny, but dramatic when they had to be. And each was cast boldly. This latter version seems to have more money thrown at it, but less of a cast, and certainly less of a script. Although, frankly, I don't think you're going to get better source material than from Alexandre Dumas.

In case you don't remember, the story starts with young D'Artagnan, who starts out for Paris in search of joining the Three Musketeers, but runs into trouble from the get-go. Add some romance, international intrigue, lots of sword play, and you have the plot for all three.

Unfortunately, in our modern version, the dialogue doesn't live up to the material, and seems inane at times. The film starts out well enough, showing each of our musketeers and what they're good at in the beginning caper. But then, once the film shifts to Cardinal Richelieu and his accomplice, Milady de Winter, the drama stops. Christoph Waltz is too limp as the evil Cardinal, and Milla Jovovich is too, well, athletic as the double spy. You can see why Jovovich was hired -- she performs amazing stunts and makes it look natural. But she doesn't have the mystery about her, the dramatic play that others have had in her place.

The Three Musketeers 2011 has brilliant costumes, beautiful sets, dazzling but short sword fights, amazing visual effects, but there's no real Dumas intrigue there. Go back and take a look at the other versions, and enjoy yourself.

Thumb's down.