We Want Action: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

Mission-Impossible-Rogue-Nation-2015-Poster-HD-wallpaper

Over the years, the Mission: Impossible movies have translated into a variety of highly entertaining films from a diverse group of directors who put their own stamp on things. The first, second, third and fourth movies — directed by Brian De Palma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird receptively — have all offered crazy, wild and wonderful scenes that often feature Tom Cruise doing something incredibly dangerous that looks far more real than they should and Christopher McQuarrie’s Rogue Nation is no exception.

mission impossibel rogue nation posterThis one follows Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) as he goes rogue on a mission to shut down an international terrorist group called The Syndicate that wants to destabilize the world. This become all the more difficult when Alec Baldwin’s head of the CIA lead to the dissolution of the Impossible Mission Force. So, he recruits Benji (Simon Pegg) to come help him track down the Syndicate’s leader Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) and also find out who the mysterious Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) is really working for. Of course, Luther (Ving Rhames) and Brandt (Jeremy Renner) also get in on the fun to help save the world.

mission-impossible-rogue-nation-poster-simon-peggI won’t get into all the twists and turns because I can’t remember them all and even if I could, I wouldn’t want to ruin them, but this was a fun, super-taut thriller that kept my undivided attention for hits just over two hour run time. We caught it at the drive-in last weekend after watching Minions (you can read my review of that film over on my dad blog Pop Poppa). Even our 4 year old daughter seemed to enjoy the first part before she fell asleep.

Now that this film has racked up five films, I’ve come to really enjoy these characters and how they interact with one another. I’ve been a big fan of Rhames since I saw him in the first film and appreciate that he’s stuck around. And, how can you  not like Pegg and Renner? In a way, them all being together is kind of like the ensemble cast in the Fast & Furious movies which is a big reason they’re so popular. The downside to that is that, even though I really enjoyed Ferguson in the movie, I missed seeing Paula Patton in this movie, but maybe she’ll be back in the future!

Also like the F&F movies, these are just packed with crazy action scenes. I was glad that this one wasn’t bogged down with a love story (we’ve seen enough of that in these movies) which meant that Ethan and company could focus on the main villain. This also meant that threatening a woman wasn’t a major part of the bad guy’s plan. It’s so easy to go down that route, so I appreciated Lane’s somewhat more inspired choice in kidnapee. Also, that whole thing with the underwater lockbox was super intense and it was quickly followed up by one of the franchise’s best chase scenes so kudos all around!

We Want Action: John Carter, Edge Of Tomorrow & Jack Ryan

john_carter_ver2 I’ve been pretty tired and/or busy lately. Between work and the kids, the days are pretty full and I get awfully sleepy by the time evenings roll around. This is a bummer for me because I like to stay up and watch movies at night, but that’s been more of a piecemeal process lately. However, I’m still trying to take in new films like this trio of more recent big screen offerings.

Let’s start with Andrew Stanton’s 2012 film John Carter from Disney. This adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ space traveler didn’t do so hot at the box office and I think I know why. First off, the well seemed to be pretty solidly poisoned before the movie even came out. I have no idea why that is, but I was heavily in the movie coverage thing for Spinoff when this film was coming out and there seemed to be a lot of pre-press about how it was going to fail. I don’t know why and this might sound conspiratorial, but it seemed to me like someone didn’t want the movie to do well and then it didn’t.

But, that’s not all. This isn’t an easy film to understand and, for me, that’s not a knock. You’ve got to pay attention to what’s going on and do a little thinking yourself to keep up with this tale. It’s not all laid out at your feet, which I appreciate because too many movies spell everything out so there’s absolutely no place for confusion. I don’t mind working for my entertainment and actually think better of the projects that make me get into that headspace.

This isn’t just a thinking person’s sci-fi action film, though. It looks rad. The aliens are fantastic and the action sequences are on point. I’ve read maybe a quarter or a third of ERB’s A Princess of Mars and it seemed like Stanton and company took what’s a fairly dry, clinical narrative and gave it a bit more heart which I appreciated (I actually stopped reading because that old school style of simply listing everything weird that’s happening gets real old for me real fast). All in all, I give this one a big thumb’s up and hope more people discover it at home. It’s too bad we’re not going to get more of this world…at least for a while.

edge of tomorrowAs I move on to talking about Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, I’m realizing that all three of these movies were adaptations. This one is probably the least well known because it’s a manga (which I haven’t read, for what it’s worth). Basically, aliens are invading earth and humanity uses mech suits to fight them off. Tom Cruise plays a self-serving PR guy who gets unceremoniously recruited to the front lines where he kills one of the creatures which gives him a kind of Groundhog Day-like ability to keep living the same day over and over again. He gets in contact with Blunt’s super soldier character who had a similar experience and starts training like crazy, dying constantly along the way.

The story has a pretty high concept and some specific rules about how you get and lose these powers, but again, I don’t mind learning these fairly outlandish details as they’re presented. I was much more interested in Blunt’s character than all that anyway. She’s such a cool, shrewd character who, in a way, knows what’s going on, but in another is completely in the dark because she has no idea how many times Cruise has come back and tried any number of alternative methods. While he’s falling for her over and over again, she’s basically meeting him for the first time every day (and killing him a number of those times).

So, if you can buy into some bonkers rules and like Tom Cruise evolving from brash douche to war hero, then give Edge Of Tomorrow (or as it was retitled upon home video release KILL. DIE. REPEAT.) a shot.

jack ryan shadow recruitFinally, let’s talk a bit about Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, based on the character seen in Tom Clancy’s novels. This particular story doesn’t come from one of those books, instead giving the CIA operative an updated origin story for the modern era starring Chris Pine. The idea here was to start a new franchise, but apparently the film didn’t do to well and those plans have been put on hold, but I thought this was a gripping thriller that kept my attention the whole time.

Ryan starts off as a finance wiz who joins the military after the events of 9-11. While serving, his helicopter gets blown up, but he survives to meet and fall for Keira Knightley in a hospital. While getting better Kevin Costner appears and offers him a job as a covert financial analyst for the CIA. He soon comes upon Kenneth Branagh, a Russian whose machinations include a massive terrorist attack that will topple the world economy.

As much as I love James Bond movies where our hero is super experienced in all things espionage, I kind of liked seeing someone like Ryan in his early days. He’s got the training and does okay when he gets attacked early on, but Pine also conveys how overwhelming some of these experiences are. It would have been cool to see his version of this character evolve over a series of films.

Of course, Jack Ryan has been in a series of movies like Hunt For Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger and The Sum Of All Fears. I don’t think I’ve seen any of those movies, so I wasn’t spending the whole run time comparing Pine to Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford or Ben Affleck which was cool, but I am interested in going back and check them out.

 

McQuarrie Accepts Mission: Impossible 5 Assignment

Mission-Impossible-Ghost-ProtocolTom Cruise will be teaming up with Jack Reacher director Christopher McQuarrie once again. This time, the action star is bringing the director along into his most successful franchise, the Mission: Impossible films. McQuarrie’s name had been floating around the project for a while now, but he’s officially joined a club of directors that includes Brian De Palma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird.

“I am thrilled to reunite with Chris for the latest installment in the Mission series,” Cruise said via statement. “I began producing the films with the goal that a different director with his own vision would make each one. Chris is an extraordinary filmmaker who will deliver the heart-pounding action and thrills that audiences around the world have come to expect from the Mission: Impossible franchise.”

The film, which is being produced by Bad Robot, also features a script written by Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3).  The fifth film is expected to see Ghost Protocol actors Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames and Paula Patton return along with Cruise, though nothing has been announced officially. The film is expected to hit screen in 2015.

[via THR]

Quick Movie Review: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

After checking out the first three Mission: Impossible movies at the end of last year, I was interested in checking out Ghost Protocol. That’s kind of saying a lot because it’s a franchise I’ve forgotten a lot about (including almost all of the third installment, as it turns out). I also have very mixed feelings about Tom Cruise as a person, though he seems to keep doing a good job acting. I’m not sure how I’ll feel after everything shakes out from his divorce from fellow Toledoian and one-time grade school classmate of mine Katie Holmes.

Anyway, this movie wound up being exactly what you want from a M:I movie. You’ve got Cruise and company winding up on the run and on their own (that’s the plot of at least two of the other movies, isn’t it?). But, even if the broad plot strokes seem familiar, director Brad Bird and company did a great job of upping the ante along with the tech. Instead of climbing a mountain, Cruise climbs the tallest building in the world (awesome scene). Instead of dangling in a control room, Jeremy Renner magnetically floats in a ventilation shaft. While I’m not always a big fan of the sequel formula that assumes the new film needs to hit several of the same plot points as the original, I think it was well done in this case.

So, yeah, I really really enjoyed the movie and recommend it for just about anyone who dug the previous flicks or action movies in general. I might have missed it in theaters, but my parents actually have one of those DVD projects and my dad made a screen out of roofing material that he hangs outside, so my wife and I did actually get to see it on the (or a) big screen. Honestly, that’s my favorite way to watch a movie. I’m thinking of just clearing out half our place and turning it into a screening room.

Book Vs. Radio Play Vs. Movie Vs. Comic Vs. Movie: War Of The Worlds

This post has been a long time coming. After reading and not particularly enjoying H.G. Wells’ War Of The Worlds, I decided to go on and listen to the radio play again, watch both the 1953 and 2005 movie versions and read Alan Moore’s interpretation of the adventure using his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in the second volume of that book. I listened to the play again online, watched the first movie and read the trade within a pretty short amount of time, but then got hung up on watching the latest movie for timing reasons.

To sum up my previous post, I thought WOTW (first published in 1898) was an interesting book that based an alien invasion story around the technology and military practices of the time. Overall, the way the story was told (almost completely in first person recollection–like a journal–with almost no dialog) sapped a lot of the tension right out of the proceedings. Hell, you know he survives because he’s writing the book you’re supposedly reading. The basic idea of the book is that our white collar main character sees something fall from the sky that turns out to be a Martian. These head-like aliens with giant eyes and tentacles shot here in cylinders, built huge tripods, walked around in them destroying things with heat rays and green death fog only to be SPOILER brought down by Earth germs. Without spoiling too much, I enjoyed every other version of this story more than the original text.As I mentioned in the post about the book, I was fascinated by the 1938 radio play version of the story orchestrated by Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater (you can listen to it here if you’re interested). It was done on Halloween that year and–this is the part that blows me away–some people thought it was real! This might seem ridiculous, especially considering the opening, intermission and very end make it very clear you’re listening to fiction, but just imagine how many times you’ve tuned into a TV show a few minutes after the start. The way the story was presented to people back then was basically the same as a mockumentary now. A live concert was interrupted, first by reports of strange streaks in the sky and later by a full-on report from New Jersey where one of the pods landed. There’s even a great moment early on when they interview a guy who was just driving around listening to the radio program that we are listening to. He says he was getting bored and dozing because it was boring!

Even though this thing was done almost 75 years ago, it still felt thrilling and spot on from a news standpoint. Even though I’d heard it before a bunch of times, I was excited to hear what was going on. It’s kind of like watching Jaws or Halloween again. I know what’s happening but I love the ride. I’m also really impressed that it still feels like a modern up-to-the-minute news story. It reminded me of seeing the events of 9/11 unrolling when I was in college. You have no idea what’s going on except for a few things you’re hearing/seeing and you’re trying to put the pieces together. And, man, it just feels hopeless at times. How are these people going to defeat these giant monsters they can’t seem to even touch?

Compared to the book, the radio play is far more exciting. They use the same basic story structure, but the inclusion of New Jersey and New York City as locations and more common language make it easier to follow. By this time, the language of sci-fi was more established, so it’s easier to explain what’s going on. We also see some straight-up sections taken from the book mostly after the intermission with the narrator explaining what’s going on. The character of the infantryman showing up and giving his spiel about sneaking around and building up a resistance to fight the aliens. And, of course, the story ends with our hero realizing the aliens have died from Earth germs. The 1953 version of War Of The Worlds is considered a sci-fi classic. I had no idea, but I can see why after watching the movie. It’s a very 50s flick with nearly everything shot on backlots (I know this might look corny to some people, but I love the look of studio lot movies like Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry). This time around, our hero meets up with a girl and winds up getting stuck in a house with her (like the hero in the book was, but he was with an annoying guy). I thought this change in dynamic was interesting and offered some different elements that I enjoyed. There’s also a really intense scene where one of the Martians sticks an eyed tentacle into the house and the couple have to avoid it for fear of being killed.

Another new element that you can see on the above poster is that, instead of riding around in tripods, these aliens use flying ships (which were actually mentioned as potential transport for the Martians in the book). The effects look amazing–especially when you see an actual Martian’s hand–and there’s an excellent behind-the-scenes documentary on the DVD that I got from Netflix that goes through and shows how they did a lot of the practical effects for the movie (fun fact: Ray Harryhausen shot test footage because he wanted to do the movie, but it went to someone else).

Again, compared to the book, this is a much more engaging journey right off the bat. Four minutes in and I was jazzed about the story and wanted to see what was going to happen. One interesting thing is that, in the very beginning, they actually show Mars and then the other planets, explaining why they wouldn’t work for the Martians (which is interesting because at the end of the book, we’re told another planet would work, I think it was Venus, but scientifically speaking that’s nonsense). Anyway, they use more science than Wells had access to, but it’s funny to see a drawing of Earth from space instead of a picture, because, well, we hadn’t been to space yet.

If you’re a sci-fi fan, you should do yourself a favor and rent or just buy this bad boy. The movie is awesome, but it’s also jam packed with extras. You’ve got the FX thing I already mentioned, plus interviews with the surviving cast members, especially the female lead who knew a LOT about what was going on with the making of the film. The most interesting aspect though, was a featurette which compared Wells with the other godfather of sci-fi Jules Verne. Apparently Verne didn’t like Wells because Verne took the time to do the science and Wells just made stuff up that doesn’t make a lot of sense (like the seemingly nonsense Martian biology his narrator describes). Oh, they also have the full radio show on the DVD too, if you don’t want to listen to it on your computer. Aside from the radio play, the second volume of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was the other version of War of the Worlds I’d experienced before. There’s a lot more going on in these issues that originally came out between 2002 and 2003 from Wildstorm imprint America’s Best Comics, including a visit to Dr. Moreau (as in The Island Of) and a pair of confrontations between members, one romantical, the other super duper gross and bloody. But, the overall thrust of the story involves Allan Quartermain, Mina Murray, Mr. Hyde, Captain Nemo and the Invisible Man doing what they can to stop the Martian invasion (Moore went with the traditional tripod designs for the Martian walkers as you might expect from the master of detail).

LOEG is not only one of my favorite concepts (Expendables is basically the LOEG of action stars!) but also one of my all-time favorite comics. I even did a big paper comparing the characters in the comic to the characters in the original books back when I was in college, though it was confined to just the first volume because otherwise, I would have gone insane. Anyway, what I like most about Moore’s take on the story is that humanity actually gets to do something more than fumble around until germs kill the Martians. If you haven’t read this trade yet (what are you waiting for?) this is SPOILER territory. Not only does Hyde fight one with his bare hands, but the trip to Moreau is to get a bioweapon mixing anthrax and streptococcus that they fire at the aliens to take them out. YEAH! Humanity FINALLY got to do something instead of knocking a few tripods down with rockets or whatever. The final entry in the post comes down to 2005’s War of the Worlds flick directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Tim Robbins and even cameos by Gene Barry and Ann Robinson who were the leads in the 1953 flick! This time around Cruise stars as a divorcee who doesn’t have the best relationship with his son and daughter (Fanning). He’s got them for the weekend when the aliens start their invasion and goes on a tour of the east coast trying to keep them safe. Spielberg incorporates elements from all the previous official renditions mentioned above including paraphrases or direct quotes from the radio play, book and 1953 movie along with a few scenes from the previous movie. This time, instead of arriving in cylinders, the war machines were supposedly buried on Earth years ago (before roads were built) and a lightning bolt somehow brought the aliens down from Mars into the robots while also taking out communications and machines with an electromagnetic pulse. I understand why they changed this: modern humans wouldn’t wait around for an alien to build a craft in a hole. But, it just feels kind of strange and goes back to one of the problems with Wells’ original: some of the science doesn’t make any sense.

Anyway, the aliens once again ride tripods, feed off of humans and destroy lots and lots of things and people with their heat rays. Cruise–the luckiest man in the world as everyone around him gets zapped to death and he almost never gets grabbed by the aliens unless he wants to–gets home, gets his kids and they make a break for it. Once again, even though I knew how the story would end, I was still really drawn into the story thanks to the obstacles Spielberg put between Cruise’s family and safety.

Back when this movie first came out I wasn’t very interested because of Cruise’s real-life craziness, but I actually liked him in the movie, partly because his character is kind of a crazy asshole. It’s like watching Nic Cage’s enjoyable movies like National Treasure instead of the ones where he’s trying to be serious (Bangkok Dangerous SUCKED). I had a lot of fun with the movie, but once again, it ends with people discovering Earth germs kill Martians, though there are a couple scenes where humanity takes a few of them down, which is nice. Again, even knowing the ending, I was just waiting to see how things would end (aside from the germs).

After reading the book I thought “Well, I don’t like this version, but the story has a lot of potential.” Clearly that’s correct, though I’m not sure how much more it might have. Frankly, the fact that humans don’t get to actually do anything, makes for a less-than-stellar story. I know that the meat of the remakes have been about the perseverance of the human spirit in the most daunting and adverse situations, but with the same ending every time (minus LOEG Vol. 2) it gets kind of neutered. In the end, I think I’m all set on War of the Worlds remakes and reinterpretations, unless they can recreate the real life panic started by the radio show. THAT would be interesting.

Songs Of Summer “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins

Last summer I purchased Kenny Loggins’ greatest hits for basically three songs “Danger Zone,” “Footloose” and “I’m Alright” all three of which have made their way into several of my playlists, including the summer one that inspired this recurring feature on UM. Damn, Loggins sure knows how to write an awesome song for a movie doesn’t he? I’m not a huge Top Gun fan and think I’ve only ever seen it on television and never unedited (I have no idea if there’s anything cut out for content or whatever). Anyway, the two things I think of when I think of the movie are planes and shirtless man beach volleyball, which probably says something more about me than I wanted anyone to know. It’s a great soundtrack song and a great summer song. It’s impossible to not drive a little faster than normal on a bright sunny day when this track makes it’s way to the play section of your iPod.

UPDATE: This is too good not to show you guys. My buddy Justin (the guy playing the guitar) who I used to work with at Barry’s pointed me towards a performance he and some friends did of Top Gun The Subway Musical. Do yourself a favor and watch these two clips:

I especially like their interpretation of the volleyball scene. I’m not sure if it makes me want to watch the movie again or makes me want to watch the Subway Musical version again…