Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation – review

Mission Impossible Rogue Nation Cruise on motorcycle posterI don’t know whether you know this or not, but Tom Cruise is the most awesome guy on the planet. Not having met Cruise personally, I know this only because that’s what the plots of all his movies are about. This plot comes in two variations. The first one is straight-forward: Tom Cruise is totally awesome! The second variation is a little less direct: People don’t appreciate how awesome Tom Cruise is! (Think of Jerry Maguire, in which his girlfriend dumps him and he loses his job, just to prove that even though he’s totally awesome, we should still sympathize with him because the world treats him so unfairly.) The interesting thing about Cruise’s latest effort, insofar as there is anything interesting about Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, is that it conflates these two strains into a single if somewhat uncomfortable hybrid.
In Phase One of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Cruise plays the super-awesome Ethan Hunt once again, who hangs off airplanes when he’s not out-fighting, out-running, and out-maneuvering everyone else in the film. In Phase Two of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, the CIA (in the person of Alan Hunley, played by Alec Baldwin) wants to kill Hunt because, in a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, Hunley doesn’t  like the Impossible Mission Force’s carte blanche to engage in unsupervised covert ops. Consequently, while Hunt is busy trying to save the world yet again, his own ungrateful country is trying to terminate him with extreme prejudice.
It’s really not fair for such an awesome dude to be treated this way, but the plot plays well for viewers who think that America should kick-ass on the rest of the world, and that any sort of restraint is the result of scheming forces that want to undermine the good guys.
Unfortunately, this amalgam, instead of being more than the sum of its parts, turns out to be somewhat less, because the two phases, like musical notes out of phase with each other, tend to cancel out rather than combine. The filmmakers can’t spend half the movie showing us how awesome Cruise is and then expect the audience to worry that the CIA might actually catch and execute him. Likewise, when the filmmakers spend the other half of the movie showing Cruise easily evading the entire CIA, they can’t expect us to have any doubts that he will have any trouble defeating the villain du jour.
Which is rather unfortunate, because Phase One of the film is supposedly built around the concept that Hunt may have finally met his match, which would have been interesting if we had believed it. Of course, we don’t – the two-phase approach makes it impossible to even pretend to believe it, and it certainly doesn’t help that the fiendish mastermind is too blind to notice (or at least do anything about) the rather obvious double-agent he is employing. But at the end of the day, none of this really matters, because the movie’s only message is: even when Hunt meets his match, he still wins, because no one can match Cruise’s awesomeness!
Before I forget, let me mention that the plot mechanics are constructed around a MacGuffin that Hunt must steal from a super-duper high-security facility. There is an explanation for what this MacGuffin is and how it got into the facility, which makes a kind of movie sense at least; however, the MacGuffin actually turns out to be something completely different from what we were told (you need twists in this kind of spy thriller),. This raises a question the film never bothers to address: if the explanation of the MacGuffin’s identify was false, does the explanation for how it got into the facility make sense anymore?
I suppose one could dismiss all of this as mere pretext, the necessary plot elements to justify exciting set-piece, of which there are several. Unfortunately, the best one comes up front, with Cruise hanging off the side of a plane taking off from the runway. It’s a bold, can-we-top-this? gambit that overshadows the rest of the film; the following fight scenes, suspense scenes, and chase scenes (including a pretty nifty one on a motorcycle) are all good – but not that good.
With Cruise’s awesomeness blazing throughout the film, there is not much room for anyone else to shine. It’s nice to see Ving Rhames again, but I’ve already forgotten what if anything he contributed. Jeremy Renner cements his position as Hollywood’s top also-ran, treading water while waiting for the producers to spin him off into a Bourne-like sequel. Rebecca Ferguson is supposed to be amazing, but she’s just okay – good enough to play second fiddle, but no threat to the star. Alec Baldwin somehow manages to make his CIA prick fun to watch even before his change of heart (he’s basically Ralph Fiennes from SKYFALL).
In spite of my qualms I did find Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation reasonably diverting, and the ending even managed to build up a fair share of tension (though why I should have doubted that Cruise’s awesomeness would prevail, I don’t know). Maybe my expectations were too high. Its predecessor,  Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, supplied some actual thrills (for once, the danger seemed real rather than pretend), and I was expecting more of the same – an expectation seemingly confirmed by wildly enthusiastic reviews (93% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes).
Sadly, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation winds up seeming a bit like someone who tells you he’s funny instead of telling you a joke. The film insistently harps on Cruise’s awesomeness, without fully achieving awesomeness itself.
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (July 31, 2015). Directed by Christopher McQuarrie. Screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, from a story by McQuarrie and Drew Pearce, based on the television series by Bruce Geller. With: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Simon McBurney, Jingchu Zhang, Tom Hollander, Jens Hulten, Alec Bladwin.  In IMAX 3D. PG-13. 131 mins.

Martin Landau: The CFQ Interview

Martin Landau (right) teams up with Johnny Depp and won an Oscar for his portrayal of Bela Lugosi in ED WOOD.
Martin Landau (right) teams up with Johnny Depp and won an Oscar for his portrayal of Bela Lugosi in ED WOOD.

Every now and then, we pause in awe of the people we’ve had the opportunity to spend time with. Doug Trumbull, John Kricfalusi, and Paul Verhoeven in earlier years, Armin Shimerman and Frank Oz more recently — now it’s Martin Landau’s turn, and we couldn’t be happier.
In an extended and wide-ranging interview, we got a chance to discuss the length and breadth of Martin’s career. In the course of talking about his roles in NORTH BY NORTHWEST, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, and his Oscar-winning portrayal of Bela Lugois in ED WOOD — and much, much more — Martin provides insights on the art of acting, shares anecdotes from the set, and talks about the sometimes seamy politics that drive the film industry. It is, all told, a fascinating exploration of the life of an actor — click on the player to hear the show.

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Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (Capsules: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo/The Dark Knight Rises Prologue): CFQ Spotlight Podcast 2:50.1

Ghost Protocol in the Machine: Tom Cruise (falling) shows Michael Nyqvist (demonstrating the wrong way to order at the McDonald's drive-thru) how to keep things moving in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL.
Ghost Protocol in the Machine: Tom Cruise (falling) shows Michael Nyqvist (demonstrating the wrong way to order at the McDonald's drive-thru) how to keep things moving in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL.

What says Christmas Spirit more than nuclear holocaust, life-or-death chases in an automated car park, and scaling the world’s tallest building? Maybe that’s why Paramount scheduled the release of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL for this most festive of seasons. Or maybe it’s that it’s just plain fun. Stripping the IM force down to leader Tom Cruise — aided and abetted by Paula Patton, Simon Pegg and new recruit Jeremy Renner — and paring the story down to a struggle to prevent a megalomaniacal terrorist from triggering WWIII,  the film (under the direction of animation vet Brad Bird, here making his live-action debut) unpacks some of the baggage accrued in the previous installments to become a lighter, wittier exercise in epic action.
Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons discuss their reaction to all the chaos, exploring how director Bird fares in his first foray in the tangible world, considering Tom Cruise’s future in the franchise and evaluating whether the IMAX format makes the Impossible Missions seem even… uh… impossibler.
Also: Larry delivers his verdict on THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and Steve gives his reaction to the THE DARK KNIGHT RISES prologue screened at MI’s IMAX venues.

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Simon Pegg in Mission: Impossible IV?


Simon Pegg is reportedly in talks to return for MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE IV, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Pegg would reprise his role of lab geek Benji Dunn. Similar to his portrayal of Montgomery “Scotty” Scott in STAR TREK, Pegg brought much-appreciated comic relief to MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III and would make a welcome addition to the cast of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE IV.
Interestingly, Both M:I III and STAR TREK were directed by J.J. Abrams, but for M:I IV, Abrams will only be contributing as a producer. Though the project has not yet been officially greenlit, the film is likely to being shooting this September and is set for a December 16, 2011 release.
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