Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Random Movie: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)

Let me just start off by saying how thankful I am that there is not another colon before the ‘Ghost Protocol’ subtitle. I think that would irritate me beyond belief, potentially to the point of not even doing a review at all. Whew. Crisis averted. Now as far as big-budget action franchises go, Mission: Impossible has always been all over the place for me (and a lot of folk by the ratings and reviews). The first had its moments but was decried by some for its handling of establish characters from the TV series. I didn’t care about that so much but it had long stretches of nothing that my 14-year-old brain didn’t like. M:I 2 was much the same but with far too little talky parts and far too many random explosions and whiplash-inducing edits. M:I 3 I rather liked but I’ve only ever seen that once, on TNT or something, at 3 in the morning. So I’m not too qualified to make a firm declaration on that one.

As Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol got underway at the helm of Brad Bird (you know, the awesome director from likely your favorite Pixar films) and Jeremy Renner joining the cast, I was tempted from the start. The initial, and somewhat ongoing, talk was that Renner’s character Brandt was likely to take over for Captain Insano himself for any future installments. Anything that results in less Tom Cruise in my life is always a good thing. Sadly, I did not get to see this in IMAX which means that I didn’t get the TDKR prologue (damn!) nor to experience some of the moments that others raved about. I can certainly imagine that those scenes would have been quite amazing in IMAX but I don’t think that the lack of a super-huge screen detracted from my enjoyment … at least not as much as the story.

At the start. we find Ethan Hunt (Insano Cruise himself) stuck in a Russian prison as the team of Jane (Paula Patton) and Benji (the returning Simon Pegg) are attempting to break him out. Of course they succeed since the opening credits have not even begun and Hunt is quickly thrust into a mission to retrieve files from the Kremlin. Things go awry, the Kremlin blows up, and the US government initiates ‘Ghost Protocol’ which is not a version of Call of Duty, but the shuttering of IMF and basically stranding Hunt and his team on their own with a new IMF analyst, Brandt (Renner) tagging along.

If you’ve seen Alias, any James Bond film, or most any other “spy/covert action” movie, you could probably guess there is a deranged man with a major weapon that requires the team to travel to exotic locales to track down clues and contacts and ultimately stop World War III. As far as the story goes, there really is not a lot of new ground broken in this installment sadly. Please do not mistake the rote steps I described for boring as writers Josh Appelbaum and AndrĂ© Nemec use those genre tentpoles as effectively as possible while transitioning between the exposition and the action very seemlessly. Unlike another recent action-y/spy thriller Salt, the big sequences and showdowns feel naturally inserted into the story instead of a loose plot written around said sequences.

Bird as director deserves a lot of credit for this as well. Perhaps the many years managing the doubtlessly painstaking process of an average Pixar film is a much better training camp for action directors than say, music videos and commercials. Ghost Protocol is almost the antithesis of a Michael Bay film as you actually have a firm grasp of the setting and the blocking so you can tell what the hell is going on. Those transitions between the dialogue and the action and then back again are quite fluid for lack of a better word which is more desirable than the typical “throw in as many cuts as possible to confuse the audience into liking it” sense that seems to permeate action films nowadays.

Since 1996, Cruise has been the face of the M:I series so that sadly has not changed for now but he does well-enough with his smarmy, smug persona to pull off Hunt as well as before. Patton has a few decent scenes but nothing too spectacular. The main standouts for the cast are Pegg and Renner, and that statement might be only slightly partial since I am a fan of both. Pegg does little wrong (I haven’t seen Paul so I can’t say no wrong) so his portrayal of the new field agent Benji is just the right amount of smart and confident with a bit of naivete to him that serves as a great comedic foil for the mostly stone-serious cast. Renner may be among those serious characters but I’ve liked the guy in everything I’ve seen him in and he is quite versatile as an actor with action, drama, and a hint of facetiousness coming through here. While the villains are too blase to remember their names, the dynamic from the ex-IMF team as a whole made up for them. And Anil Kapor was excellent, although not too important in the grand scheme of things.

As a whole, Ghost Protocol doesn’t come together quite as well as I remember the last installment and it may not stick out as a great action film along the lines of Die Hard. But that’s no bother. The pedestrian story aside, there is more than enough here to satisfy with some great performances by Pegg and Renner as well as the type of pacing and structure that action films should strive to abide by.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Random Movie (Again!): Breaking Dawn - Part I (2011)

Look, I’m not ashamed to admit that I spent deflated U.S. currency to see this big-budget teenage soap opera in theaters. Well, no, I am a bit ashamed. But that won’t deter me from finishing up the series that has pained my sensibilities for years now. Bella and Jacob are all grown-up, Edward is technically still a creepy old man, and no one ever seemed to ponder whether or not a vampire can knock-up an awkward teenage girl. Now, the world knows the truth as Breaking Dawn: Part I attempts to lay the old vampire-human sex myth to rest once and for all and so the women in the house can get their fix for pale vamp-y boy or ripped, shirtless wolf-y boy.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Random Movie: The Summer of Massacre (2011)

The Summer of Massacre
Written by: PBF

The Summer of Massacre will arrive on DVD and Blu-Ray on January 10th 2012 via Breaking Glass Pictures. It is 5 stories so bloody; so full of carnage that it is apparently in the Guinness Book of World records for highest body count recorded in a film. I am too lazy to verify that, so, you know, go ahead and Google or Wikipedia that. Whichever one you use to tell you what to believe.

You ever wanted to know what it would be like if Clive Barker took mescaline and then made a film? Joe Castro provides us with a pretty good guess. This film is ultra violent about 98.7% of the time. We have 5 chapters of dizzying images, ear piercing sounds and nonsensical industrial house music, and blood flowing like urine from a pissing contest atop Mt. Everest. I mean if something or someone could bleed, they did, as if their lives depended on it (!).

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Random Movie: Alien 3 (1992)

To prepare for the upcoming "Epic Finchercast," I revisited Alien 3, or Alien Cubed if you so prefer, since I haven't seen it since the early 90s after its debut on HBO. Since I was but maybe 10 or 11 at the time, I cannot hold myself too accountable for my disdain for this film since of course, at the time, I had not yet experienced Se7en, Zodiac, or Social Network. On the surface, Alien Cubed is a decent follow-up to the Alien saga. When viewed with the rest of director David Fincher's body of work, this was just the beginning.

The main consternation of Alien 3 seems to be around the death of Newt and Hicks. Now, I love Aliens (and Michael Biehn) just as much as the next guy and at the time I was sad to see them perish off-camera in rather rudimentary ways. But as the crew's ship crash lands onto a Company-owned maximum-security prison/iron works/whatever, this time I began to see why that decision was made. Hicks was basically incapacitated and Newt, while cute and all, was still just a pesky pre-teen girl that would have otherwise been surrounded by the rapists and murderers on Fury 161. It's tough to say but those characters had outlived their usefulness but Ripley, of course, has not.

Say what you want about the Alien series proper as a whole, but Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has always been the backbone and Alien 3 shows exactly why. As she is told by the medical officer Clemens (Charles Dance) that her companions have perished, Ripley still has the nagging thought that an alien is behind their demise even though she is curiously restrained in explaining that. After the bodies of Newt and Hicks are cremated and a rescue team has been summoned, Ripley receives confirmation that an alien was on-board and has likely infiltrated the small camp of prisoners and corrections officers.

Having watched the theatrical cut and the "assembly cut" back-to-back, the omissions that were made are puzzling. Even knowing about the longer, fuller cut in advance, the theatrical version seems either far too sloppily edited or too truncated to do the film any justice. Out of the twenty five remaining in the facility, only a handful are ever given any characterization (such as Charles Dutton's Dillion) or even names (like the survivor Morse) in the regular cut, leading to the bulk of the film just an alien chasing random dudes down dimly-yellow-tinged hallways. The "assembly cut" or as close to Fincher's director's cut that we will likely receive is about twenty five minute longer and features not only more prominent characterizations of the important inmates but also a quite enthralling plot point that was completely omitted from the final film.

Since I have watched an ungodly amount of Fincher films in the past month, it is easy to see the visual style that he would hold onto with following films. The low- and high-angled shots, the yellow hues that permeate, and even the emphasis on character rather than flashy visuals that would define him almost two decades later are present in Fincher's debut film. Sadly, that mostly holds true for the "assembly cut" rather than the theatrical version since a good chunk of the story was left out in the latter version. Even the other little details like the grimy set-pieces or the ruthless anonymous thugs speak toward Fincher's other works and they certainly stand out here as Fincher seems to be more interested in the visual than the constantly changing narrative.

Even though it has been largely criticized by the movie-watching community, Alien 3 is a worthy follow-up to James Cameron's Aliens in that it is almost completely different in its execution. Aliens was more focused on non-stop action whereas Alien 3 is more of a melding of its two predecessors. There are many horror-esque moments especially as the prisoners do not know about the threat but yet still many action sequences such as the alien chasing men through endless corridors, all while it is scaling walls and ceilings. Those chase scenes close to the finale, and even those throughout the film, are captured with almost a raw intensity that defy you to be nonchalant during them. Even the assembly cut ending which still has Ripley sacrificing herself is more impactful as the queen does not bust out just before. It not only is more fitting for the ending of a Fincher film but also makes Ripley's journey more impactful.

There's tons of stuff to beat this movie up on from the cruddy CGI to the underdeveloped characters but Alien 3 was nowhere near as abysmal as I feared it would be. The assembly cut is the one to watch if you have the chance but even through the studio fuckery, the theatrical cut is still a pretty powerful film on its own, and one that tries to stand up to its bigger brothers in the franchise.