New Releases for the Week of February 7, 2014


The Monuments MenTHE MONUMENTS MEN

(Columbia) George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville. Directed by George Clooney

In the waning days of World War II, it became evident that the Nazis weren’t just planning on a final solution regarding Jewish lives but also the culture of Europe as well. Thousands of piece of art, stolen by the Nazis, were going to be destroyed and in the retaking of Europe, thousands of buildings with historical and architectural significance were going to be reduced to rubble. To prevent this from happening, FDR tasked a group of museum curators, artists and architects to saving what they could as time ticked down to the last gasp of the Third Reich. This true story shows that these men, hardly soldiers at all, became soldiers for the saving of humanity’s finest achievements.

See the trailer, featurettes, a promo and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: War

Rating: PG-13 (for some images of war violence and historical smoking)

A Fantastic Fear of Everything

(Cinedigm) Simon Pegg, Amara Karan, Clare Higgins, Alan Drake. An author of children’s books decides to make a career change into a crime novelist. While doing research into Victorian-era serial killers for his latest book, his already fragile psyche takes a turn for the worse especially when a Hollywood executive, sniffing out a potential blockbuster, gets involved.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for language)

Gloria

(Roadside Attractions) Paulina Garcia, Sergio Hernandez, Diego Fontecilla, Fabiola Zamora. A woman approaching middle age still feels young. She hangs out at the social dance clubs of Chile and while she’s lonely, she makes the best of things. Then she meets Rodolfo, a passionate lover who turns her life inside out. The trouble is Rodolfo is a bit of a roller coaster ride, and she must call upon emotional reserves she never knew she had to gather her inner strength to stand up for herself and for the things that will ultimately lead to her own happiness and fulfillment.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: R (for sexual content, some graphic nudity, drug use and language)

Hasee Toh Phasee

(Reliance) Sidharth Malhotra, Parineeti Chopra, Adah Sharma, Manoj Joshi. A prospective groom is given seven days to prove himself to a suspicious father of the bride and given the task of installing the mischievous sister of the bride in a hotel. To save money, he installs her in the flat above his own home, putting her in contact with his quirky family. This being Bollywood, they become closer than they intended, fall in love and several musical numbers ensue.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

The LEGO Movie

(Warner Brothers) Starring the voices of Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman. Emmet, a perfectly ordinary LEGO minifigure is mistaken for a kind of savior and drafted into an epic quest to stop an evil would-be dictator, a task for which he is hopefully and woefully unprepared.

See the trailer, clips and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for mild action and rude humor)

Nurse 3D

(Lionsgate) Paz de la Huerta, Katrina Bowden, Corbin Bleu, Boris Kodjoe. A sadistic nurse who spends her nights luring married men into dangerous liaisons forms a friendship with a young and naive student nurse. But when she spurns her more intimate attentions, the sadistic nurse goes on a bloody rampage.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for bloody violence, strong sexual content, language and some graphic nudity)

The Vampire Academy

(Weinstein) Zoey Deutch, Lucy Fry, Gabriel Byrne, Joely Richardson. Two best friends – a princess of the mortal vampires and her half-human, half-vampire protector, must navigate the pitfalls of high school while the half-human must protect her charge from those who would exploit her from within vampire society and the evil immortal vampires who want her dead. From the bestselling young adult book series.

See the trailer, a clip and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Teen Horror Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for violent bloody images, sexual content and language)

The World’s End


Simon Pegg realizes there's no escape from rabid Star Trek fans.

Simon Pegg realizes there’s no escape from rabid Star Trek fans.

(2013) Sci-Fi Comedy (Focus) Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Rosamund Pike, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, Pierce Brosnan, Bill Nighy (voice), Michael Smiley, David Bradley, Thomas Law, Zachary Bailess, Jasper Levine, James Tarpey, Luke Bromley, Steve Oram, Luke Scott, Darren Boyd, Rafe Spall, Alice Lowe, Flora Slorach, Rose Reynolds, Samantha White. Directed by Edgar Wright

As we grow to middle age it isn’t uncommon to look back at our youth with a kind of longing. We miss that feeling that everything was ahead of us and that life can only get better. The regrets we do have are generally not for the things we did but for the things we didn’t do.

Gary King (Pegg) can relate. Just out of school, he was King Gary, the guy all the guys wanted to hang out with and be like, and the guy all the girls wanted to be with. He and his four best mates – Andy Knightley (Frost), Oliver “O-Man” Chamberlain (Freeman), Steven Prince (Considine) and Peter Page (Marsan) – were inseparable. They even attempted the legendary Golden Mile – 12 pubs in their hometown of Newton Haven in a single night. They failed but during the course of the evening Gary managed to make out with Oliver’s sister Sam (Pike) and have the best night of his life. It was 1990, the millennium was ten years off and music was awesome – Madchester was in full glory and so was Gary in a black leather trench coat.

The trouble is that we don’t stay young forever. 1990 passed into history and it’s almost 25 years later. The lads have moved on and become middle aged men but Gary hasn’t changed much. He’s an alcoholic who has turned from the guy boys want to be like and girls want to be with into the guy men want to be the opposite of and women want to be miles away from. He still is as inconsiderate and selfish as ever, and his ego is bigger than Tommy Lee’s libido.

The failure to complete the Golden Mile has gnawed at him over the year and finally he gets the notion to get the old gang back together, head over to Newton Haven and do the Golden Mile up properly – and finish the job this time. Of course the others are reluctant but Gary is persuasive and manipulative and uses his charm (and a few outright lies) to get them to go.

At first when they get down to it, things are a little awkward. The boys – now men – don’t have a lot to say to one another. But as the pints begin to flow, things loosen up and soon it’s like old times. They’re laughing, recalling past triumphs (and embarrassments) and generally remembering why they were mates in the first place.

But their old times were never like this. There’s something strange going on in Newton Haven and the lads have stumbled into something out of a John Wyndham nightmare. The bonds of their friendship will be tested as Gary’s obsession to finish the Golden Mile may just get them all killed.

Wright, Pegg and Frost have developed a cult following through their collaborations Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. This is the third in what they call the Cornetto Three Flavour trilogy – so named for a British ice cream treat that figures in each of the movies. Each of the films stands alone and concerns completely different characters and genres but the results have been hilarious and this one just might be the best of the lot.

Part of what makes the movie work is the easy camaraderie between the five main characters. You can easily believe that they’ve been mates for a good long while. They do take the piss out of one another quite a bit which is what good friends do (when they’re male) but the affection is genuine.

There are plenty of special effects and while they aren’t of the hundred million dollar budget variety, they are better than average and don’t take you out of the movie. In fact, compared to some of the movies this past summer with plenty more money to spend, the effects were even superior.

Of course, you’d expect funny from this group and they deliver. Gary’s dim-witted narcissism, Steve’s hangdog loyalty, Oliver’s somewhat defensive posture, Andy’s tee-totaling and Peter’s fears make for good comedy. The script is clever and the soundtrack impeccable.

If I have any criticisms it’s with the middle third which tends to drag a little bit. Once the third act kicks in, the action is rip roaring. In a summer blockbuster season which has to be classified as disappointing in terms of quality, The World’s End stands out head and shoulders above the rest as the best film of summer 2013.

REASONS TO GO: Hysterically funny. Effects aren’t bad either. Awesome soundtrack.

REASONS TO STAY: Runs a bit long in the middle section. Awkward in places.

FAMILY VALUES:  A whole lot of bad language, some sci-fi action, some sexuality and a couple of disturbing images.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The sign on The King’s Head features a portrait of director Edgar Wright, sitting in for a royal.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/5/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 81/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: This is the End

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Supernova

New Releases for the Week of August 23, 2013


The Worlds End

THE WORLD’S END

(Focus) Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike, Luke Scott, Pierce Brosnan, Bill Nighy. Directed by Edgar Wright

A group of old friends, smarting from their failure in an epic pub crawl 20 years earlier agree to attempt it once again. What they don’t realize is that their venture has taken on cosmic proportions and that not only is their attempt to resolve past and present important to their own futures but holds in the balance the future of mankind as well. Suddenly everything hinges on reaching The World’s End….not literally, it’s a pub ye daft bugger.

See the trailer and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Science Fiction Comedy

Rating: R (for pervasive language including sexual references)

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

(Screen Gems) Lily Collins, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Lena Headey, Jamie Campbell Bower. A young girl’s mostly normal (if there is even such a thing) life is turned topsy turvy when she discovers that she is a Shadowhunter, a half-angelic warrior in an ongoing war with demons who are hidden from humans but not from Shadowhunters. When her mom disappears, she bands together with a group of young Shadowhunters to retrieve her, none of them realizing how important to the war she really is.

See the trailer, clips and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Supernatural Fantasy

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of fantasy violence and action, and some suggestive content)

You’re Next

(Lionsgate) Barbara Crampton, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Sharni Vinson. A family reunion is interrupted by the arrival of a group of homicidal, animal mask-wearing intruders. I know…seems to happen every year, doesn’t it? Well, this year is different – one of the guests of the family turns out to be just as homicidal and just a little bit more sadistic. There’s one in every family. The latest from up-and-coming horror master Adam Wingard.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity)

Star Trek Into Darkness


Alice Eve and Chris Pine try to out-blonde each other.

Alice Eve and Chris Pine try to out-blonde each other.

(2013) Science Fiction (Paramount) Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Benedict Cumberbatch, Karl Urban, John Cho, Bruce Greenwood, Alice Eve, Peter Weller, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, Noel Clarke, Nazneen Contractor, Amanda Foreman, Jay Scully, Jonathan H. Dixon, Aisha Hinds, Joseph Gatt, Deep Roy, Anjini Taneja Azhar. Directed by J.J. Abrams

The trouble with taking on an icon is that the bar is impossibly high. You’re not going to please everybody, particularly the diehard old guard fans of the franchise. The fever pitch of shrieking outrage usually begins with the second film in the reboot. J.J. Abrams knows that better than most; he has had his fingers in the hands of three beloved franchises – Mission: Impossible, Star Wars and Star Trek.

This is his second film in the reboot of the Trek franchise. The first got some grudging respect from the notoriously difficult-to-please Trek fandom who might very well turn their noses up if Gene Roddenberry were resurrected and turned up to direct a new Trek movie.

The new film starts out with a terrorist attack in London, ramps up with a conspiracy to militarize Starfleet’s science and exploration mission (think of NASA with missiles and bombs) and finishes up with the appearance of a familiar foe.

Normally I’m one to describe the plot in great detail, but I think I’m going to abstain this time – for one thing, I found that knowing little about what was to occur in the movie made it far more delightful. Knowledgeable Trekkers and those fairly familiar with the canon of the original series will find lots of references here, from Harry Mudd to Transwarp drive to tribbles. There is also a great deal of referencing one of the original series most popular episodes and most beloved films but not exactly as you might remember it.

Abrams has re-energized the franchise without a doubt. Part of the success of the reboot has to do with the casting – each of the choices are spot on. Pine in particular takes the essence of Captain Kirk created by William Shatner and loses some of the mannerisms that made the character a bit of a parody in later years. Pine understands the basics of the legendary Captain – the recklessness, the ego, the brilliant strategic mind and the penchant for womanizing, but takes out the quirks – the stunted speech patterns, the over-reaction reactions and the writers have kindly aided his cause by giving Kirk fewer pronouncements and more self-analysis.

Quinto also makes a terrific Spock, although I noticed in this movie that his jaw seemed a bit more set and he looked a little less like the original Spock in a lot of ways, but he does capture the constant war between the emotional human side and the cold, logical Vulcan in him. The trauma of Vulcan’s fate in the last film weighs heavily on him, although he doesn’t show it.

The relationship between Spock and Uhura is an interesting one, given that this is a recent invention. Zoe Saldana gives the character a little more action-orientation than Nichelle Nichols did in her day; I like also that the writers give her a lot more to do than being a glorified answering machine. She is much more a member of the team than she was in the original series, where much of the planning, decision making and risk taking was done by the male members of the crew. You’ve come a long way, baby.

Cho is a worthy successor to George Takei as Sulu. One of the great regrets I have when it comes to Star Trek is that we never really got to see too much of Sulu as Captain – in the couple of instances when we did see it Takei was amazing. Cho gets an opportunity to take command as Sulu and makes the most of it; I’m kind of hoping we see Cho in a spin-off someday.

Pegg is one of the world’s outstanding comic actors and while Scotty becomes more of a comic figure than he was in the original series (although depicted as a heavy drinker he had his share of drunk moments that James Doohan played beautifully) the main thrust of his character is his brilliance as an engineer and we get that from Pegg as well, although he is a bit more willful than the original Scotty and in one of the new film’s most underrated scenes stands right up to Kirk, something I don’t recall seeing the character ever do before but was a welcome moment here.

There are also “guest” characters; Greenwood as Pike is a bit of a mentor and a lot more of a father figure to Kirk. Alice Eve is gorgeous and plays her pivotal character as a lot more than you might guess from the surface – and the writers leave room for future glimpses of her character. Peter Weller, who had a couple of appearances on the Enterprise TV series, plays an admiral here whose character might remind long-time fans of an admiral who had a small but pivotal role in one of the last movies featuring the original crew.

That leads us to Benedict Cumberbatch whose character is…well, not who he appears to be. Fans of the original series will doubtlessly guess early on who he actually is but for now let us say that he is a brilliant adversary worthy of Kirk and Spock and whose appearance is done in what I believe is the proper way – coming into the series sideways, making the surprise all the more pleasant (although again savvy Trekkers will either know from Internet chatter who he is or guess based on the clues the filmmakers give us early on). Cumberbatch is an up-and-coming actor who looks to have a brilliant career ahead of him, and based on this film is already getting some scrutiny for some plum roles in franchise films. Before you know it this man is going to be one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Bet on it.

The stakes are higher here and the effects are as crazy good as they were in the last Star Trek film. I chose not to see it in 3D – who wants to see those annoying lens flares in 3D? – and I think that’s a wise choice. Some of the scenes are set in pretty dark places and the 3D glasses will only make it murkier. Besides, I didn’t get the sense that 3D would have added anything to the experience.

I liked the movie just a smidge less than the first one; what pleased me most is that the filmmakers are developing the characters in just the right way to set up more thoughtful episodes in the future. While there was some underlying commentary about the militarization of space, the usefulness of drones and of terrorism in general, this is still a little more action-oriented than fans of the original series may like but that does make the movie more palatable to non-fans. Oh, and you get to see Klingons too.

In my review of the first film I wondered if Abrams could repeat his successful reboot in the second film. The answer is a resounding yes. This is great entertainment not only for Trekkers but for general audiences as well, managing to thread the line nicely. Certainly this bodes well for the future of the franchise and with the 50th anniversary of Trek’s debut in 1966 only a few short years away, one can only be hopeful that there are a lot more places for the crew of the Enterprise to boldly go.

REASONS TO GO: Pine turning out to be an excellent Kirk and the rest of the supporting cast works well also. Nice effects, battle sequences and stunts.

REASONS TO STAY: The story is a little bit all over the place.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are some pretty intense battle sequences in space as well as some pretty nifty fisticuffs.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Christopher Doohan, the son of the original Scotty (the late James Doohan), makes a cameo appearance as a transporter technician working alongside the current Scotty in the transporter room.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/23/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100; pretty impressive reviews for a Star Trek film.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Avatar

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Russian Ark

New Releases for the Week of May 17, 2013


Star Trek Into Darkness

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS

(Paramount) Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Bruce Greenwood, John Cho, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, Peter Weller, Alice Eve. Directed by JJ Abrams

The rebooting of the beloved science fiction franchise continues as Captain Kirk takes the gallant crew of the Enterprise where maybe they shouldn’t go – deep into his own hubris. When a terrorist attack shocking in its brutality leads to the presence of an advanced weapon and a killer hidden within Starfleet itself, Kirk decides to capture or kill this man who may bring down the entire Federation to suit his own agenda – and destroy the Enterprise and her crew in the process.

See the trailer, clips, promos and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Opening today in IMAX 3D; Opening tomorrow in Standard/3D

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence)

Hating Breitbart

(Freestyle) Andrew Breitbart, Orson Bean, Michelle Bachmann, Keith Olbermann. Conservative gadfly and Internet blogger Andrew Breitbart upended traditional journalism in much the same way Fox News changed the way television news viewed objectivity in reporting the news. Liberals hate him; conservatives venerate him. He unearthed the ACORN scandal and published the tweets that ultimately took down Congressman Anthony Wiener. Love him or hate him, you must admit he is passionate about his beliefs.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: R (for some language)

The Iceman

(Millennium) Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Chris Evans, Ray Liotta. Richard Kuklinski seems to be a fairly normal guy. A loving husband, a devoted father and a pillar of the community, he lives a quiet suburban life. But that life hides a shocking fact; Richard Kuklinski is a contract killer for the mob who has murdered more than 100 people by his own estimates. Based on a stunning true story.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Crime

Rating: R (for strong violence, pervasive language and some sexual content) 

Burke and Hare


Burke and Hare

Andy Serkis and Simon Pegg find out it’s tuna casserole for lunch again.

(2010) Horror Comedy (IFC) Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis, Isla Fisher, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Curry, Christopher Lee, Ronnie Corbett, Hugh Bonneville, Jenny Agutter, Bill Bailey, Jessica Hynes, Stuart McQuarrie, Michael Smiley, David Hayman. Directed by John Landis

 

New York Times critic Neil Genzlinger characterized this movie, loosely based on real life murders committed in Edinburgh in the 19th century, as an American director using English actors to portray Irish immigrants committing murders in Scotland (I’m paraphrasing here) which, as Genzlinger opines, leads to a bit of schizophrenia of tone.

William Burke (Pegg) and his associate William Hare (Serkis) are having a spectacular run of bad luck. Times are hard in 19th century Edinburgh; while the best medical universities in the world are here, most of the city is stuck in squalor as the citizens of Edinburgh try to meet ends meet, most with the same lack of success that Burke and Hare are experiencing.

At the same time there is a rivalry going on in the medical schools. Doctors Robert Knox (Wilkinson) and Alexander Monro (Curry) have been going at it tooth and nail as they use cadavers to teach students the wonders of the human body. However, cadavers aren’t easy to come by and Knox is paying top dollar for fresh corpses and thus Burke and Hare discover a wonderful business opportunity for themselves.

At first they pretty much stick to grave robbing but the problem is that people aren’t dying fast enough to keep Knox properly supplied, so Burke and Hare, being entrepreneurial sorts, decide to help them out a bit. Soon the money is rolling in and Hare’s wife Lucky (Hynes), a sensible sort, helps her husband and his partner out with the business. Burke, in the meantime, has become smitten by actress – or prostitute, which Hare points out isn’t much of a distinction at the time – Ginny Hawkins (Fisher) who yearns to put on an all woman version of Macbeth and Burke is determined to finance the show in order to win the heart of his new beloved.

Still, murdering people for their cadavers is sort of frowned upon and the law is soon on their tails. You can imagine what happened next – or you can look it up in Wikipedia. The movie is kind of close to what actually occurred in the end.

This is the product of Ealing Studios which produced some of the most well-known comedies in the history of British films between 1947 and 1957 (including Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Lavender Hill Mob). This isn’t, strictly speaking, a comedy although it is funny in places (although the movie relies on slapstick a good deal for its humor which is fairly lowbrow for Ealing). It isn’t, strictly speaking, a horror film either although there are some grisly images. Hammer Films has nothing to worry about in other words.

Landis who in his prime directed some classic films like An American Werewolf in London, The Blues Brothers and National Lampoon’s Animal House hasn’t directed a feature since 1998. This isn’t by any means going to be remembered as one of his better efforts but it actually isn’t one of his worst either.

Casting Pegg and Serkis (although at one time Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell were rumored to have been cast in their roles) is a good reason why. The two are perfect for the parts. Their byplay is natural and unforced. It’s what you might expect from a couple of men who have been friends and partners for years; they’re almost like an old married couple in places.

It helps that each of them has a romantic foil that keeps up with them. Fisher, a beautiful woman who has some pretty impressive acting chops, takes a quirky role and makes it believable. Too often these kinds of parts are written to be eccentric for their own sake and I think that to a certain extent that’s the case here (just ask yourself – does having Burke fall for an actress with Ginny’s aspirations add anything to the story that wouldn’t have been there if she was “normal”?) and only Fisher’s performance keeps it from being irritating. Hynes, whose work I hadn’t been familiar with, also does some impressive work here.

There are some mystifying changes to the historical facts which I understand often has to be done for dramatic purposes. However, Burke and Hare were notorious for smothering their victims, which was their preferred modus operandi. I don’t understand why that was glossed over other than to create slapstick opportunities having to do with the murders themselves. Ah well.

I do like the tone of the movie which isn’t overly serious despite its somewhat grisly subject matter. This isn’t a movie people are going to be rushing right out to rent but by the same token it isn’t one that should be ignored either. I would have liked a little more consistency and a few more laughs. However, this is worth a look if you’re out to check something you haven’t seen before.

WHY RENT THIS: Pegg and Serkis are fun to watch. Fisher is gorgeous and there’s a certain sly wink about the film.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lacks consistency. Plays fast and loose with the real story of the murders, some of which seems unnecessary.

FAMILY VALUES: There are plenty of disturbing images as you might imagine. There’s also a little bit of sex and a smattering of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Actors David Schofield, John Woodvine and Agutter all appeared in An American Werewolf in London which was directed by Landis back in 1981.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $4.4M on an unreported production budget; sounds like it made a tidy profit.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: I Sell the Dead

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Out of Africa

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol


Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

Paula Patton and Tom Cruise flee Doc Brown's new car after an 88MPH chase through Mumbai.

(2011) Spy Action (Paramount) Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Josh Holloway, Michael Nyqvist, Vladimir Mashkov, Lea Seydoux, Anil Kapoor, Samuli Edelmann, Ivan Shvedoff, Tom Wilkinson, Ving Rhames, Michelle Monaghan. Directed by Brad Bird

 

The term “popcorn flick” usually refers to a movie which one brainlessly munches popcorn to, one in which the viewer is engrossed in the action and in a real sense leaves themselves behind and become enmeshed in the world the filmmaker has created. Strangely, the term is often used in a derogatory fashion. From where I sit, it should be a high honor to be a popcorn flick.

And here one is, the fourth entry in the long-standing Mission: Impossible franchise which Cruise began 15 years ago as a big screen adaptation of an old ’60s spy series that in turn was a response to the wild popularity of James Bond. In many ways, the film franchise has of late outdone the Bond series, taking it high-tech and over the top.

The movie begins with Ethan Hunt (Cruise) being broken out of a Russian prison by Benji Dunn (Pegg) and Jane Carter (Patton), two fellow IMF agents. Hunt then receives orders to break into the Kremlin and retrieve information about a nuclear terrorist code-named Cobalt, who intends to destroy the information so that his true identity can’t be discovered. Hunt arrives too late; the information is gone and Cobalt has planted a bomb in the Kremlin, blowing it to smithereens. Hunt – and by extension, the IMF – are blamed.

Hunt manages to escape the hospital where he has been treated for wounds suffered in the explosion – and the dogged Russian agent (Mashkov) who is pursuing him – and is picked up by the Secretary (Wilkinson) of the IMF and Brandt (Renner), an IMF analyst. The Secretary explains that the IMF has been disavowed as an agency by the President – a situation called the Ghost Protocol – and that Hunt must stop Cobalt from initiating a nuclear horror and simultaneously clear the IMF from wrongdoing in the Kremlin explosion. Unfortunately, the Secretary destructs shortly thereafter and Brandt and Hunt barely escape with their lives.

Thus begins a globe-trotting adventure that takes Hunt and his team-by-default to Dubai and Mumbai in India, following Cobalt (Nyqvist) and his lackey Wistrom (Edelmann) and put them squarely in the path of lethal assassin Sabine Moreau (Seydoux) who had earlier murdered Agent Hanaway (Holloway who was Sawyer in TV’s “Lost” as you might recall) who also had been Carter’s lover. Carter is a bit cheesed off at Moreau because of it.

This is Bird’s live-action debut, having directed The Incredibles and Ratatouille for Pixar. He is perfectly suited for this kind of movie, the M:I series being something of a live action cartoon in any case. There are stunt sequences here that are some of the best in the series, including one in which Ethan Hunt climbs the outside of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest building using a pair of electronic gloves that allow him to stick to the glass surface. There is also a climactic fight between Cobalt and Hunt in Mumbai in one of those garages where the cars are stacked as in a carrying case and brought out robotically. There’s also a chase in a sandstorm involving Hunt and Wistrom.

If it sounds like Tom Cruise gets to have all of the fun in this movie, he essentially does. He has the charisma and star power still to retain your attention whenever he’s on the screen. However there is also no doubt that the man is getting older (he’ll turn 50 in 2012) and that he is slowing down some. This is not the cocky self-confident Cruise who did the first Mission: Impossible film. He is not yet too old for the role but he’s certainly showing signs that he’s on his way there.

Renner gets to show off his acting chops a bit, surprisingly, as Brandt. In many ways his character is more interesting than Ethan Hunt, having been given a bit of a backstory and Brandt gets to pull off a bit of pathos which is unexpected in a movie like this. Then again, it has been widely rumored that he is the heir apparent to the franchise once Cruise decides to bow out and it seems likely that a passing of the torch will take place in the next film of the series or perhaps two films down the road.

Patton and Pegg have supporting roles, she as sex appeal and he as comedy relief and both perform ably. Patton in particular really isn’t given a lot to work with and that may leave some cold when it comes to her character, but she is sexy when she needs to be and an action heroine when she needs to be.

An action film doesn’t need to have intelligence (although that can be a pleasant plus) in order to be successful. For those looking for entertainment that doesn’t require a great deal of mental investment, this is definitely the way to go. It’s got great stunts and fights, high tech gadgets that would make Q Division green with envy, sexy women, hunky men and international intrigue – not to mention exotic locations. There may be no casinos here but the spirit of James Bond is alive and well with this franchise – and with the Bond franchise as well, thankfully. Spy movie fans are certainly living in the best of times.

REASONS TO GO: Spectacular stunts and amazing pacing makes for an exciting, breathtaking and ultimately mindless action film.

REASONS TO STAY: Cruise is a little long in the tooth for his role. Nyqvist makes for a pretty bland villain.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a good deal of violence action-style.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Cruise performed the scaling of the Burj Khalifa tower sequence himself without the aid of a stunt double. The insurance company is recovering nicely from their angina.

HOME OR THEATER: Definitely in the theater – the big stunts and big vistas deserve a big screen.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: The Darkest Hour