Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

The Mission Impossible Force makes an incredible comeback in this, the fourth entry of the series.  The plotline for this film is very simple.  The Russians are in a fight with the Americans because someone fired a nuclear weapon at the Kremlin and blamed Ethan Hunt’s team.  Ethan and his team are disavowed and have to work on their own to find out who originally fired the missile at the Kremlin and why that person would seek to incite a war between Russia and the United States.

The first thing that I noticed about Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is that the story and its characters share a sense of urgency throughout the film.  The pacing of this film is literally at breakneck speed.  Tom Cruise plays Ethan Hunt differently for each successive movie in the franchise.  In the first and second film, he was the dependable agent who always got his man.  In the third entry, Hunt was a family man who had to save his wife and discredit and destroy the villain.  In Ghost Protocol, we see Ethan Hunt at his most confident.  The entire point of Ethan Hunt in this film is to serve as a guide for the spy thriller the audience is experiencing.  Tom Cruise continues his tradition of physically pushing himself to the limit to perform crazy stunts in this film that none of us would even think of attempting.  The scaling of the world’s tallest building has to be one of the most nail biting experiences that I have seen on screen this past year.  Tom Cruise is the one actor that when you go to theater, you know you will get the action and high suspense you paid for.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol could not succeed as a film if it didn’t have an absolutely stellar supporting cast.  Simon Pegg returns for an encore performance reprising his role as Benji Dunn from MI:III.  He brings a much needed dose of light hearted humor to such an action packed romp.  The most unique thing about Benji as a character is his relationship with Ethan Hunt.  I think Benji admires and even at times wants to emulate Ethan’s ability to lead a team of agents and Benji’s admiration for Ethan is on display throughout most of the mission.  Paula Patton is introduced as the female agent of Ethan’s team and she is one of two members of Ethan’s team with a chip on her shoulder.  Paula Patton is an actress to me that really brought no depth to her role as Agent Jane Carter.  You feel bad for the traumatic experience she goes through at the opening of the film, but what talent Patton does have I feel is completely wasted on a character with no personality.  The last and most pivotal supporting cast member Jeremy Renner plays William Brandt.  Originally, Renner’s character was thought of as a possible replacement for Tom Cruise but the writers were smart enough to know that the passing of the torch should not take place in this film.  The writers elect to give William Brandt a chip on his shoulder that is also laden with guilt about an action from his past.  Personally, I cannot see his character returning for another outing with Ethan Hunt but Brandt is a welcome addition to the IMF.

Brad Bird directed Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol with all the skill he displayed in his features for Pixar animation studios.  This film served as Bird’s first live action feature and he kept the audience entertained by always keeping us close to the action.  Bird knows people are paying to see Tom Cruise save the world and uses the intensity of the situations Ethan Hunt is placed in to give the audience a front row seat to all the action and suspense.  The film biggest fault is that the villain in this film is not a main character in this story.  The chaos the villain creates is.  I believe that is more of a misstep by the writers than director Brad Bird.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is a great action thriller and even as Tom Cruise and his team ages or changes, I will be glad to see them continually save the world.  Mission Accomplished!

Film:

Replay Value:

 

War Horse

War Horse is the first film by Steven Spielberg since 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  The story revolves Albert Narracott and his relationship with a horse he trains named Joey.  Joey has to leave Albert’s care because he gets sold to the Army as a war horse.  Joey interacts with many people on both sides of the war while fighting to get back to his original owner Albert.

War Horse is one of those films that I watched in hopes of being astounded by the relationship between a man and his horse.  I was not astounded nor was I intrigued by the relationship Albert had with Joey.  The relationship between those two characters just didn’t work for me because everything in the film is either spelled out for the viewer or implied to occur in the film because of the dialogue or the camera shots chosen in a particular scene.  The training of Joey the horse feels heartfelt in the beginning but after awhile Albert’s love for Joey feels obvious and at times forced.  Joey does nothing that I find extraordinary or enchanting throughout the movie.  Indeed, the horse does do whatever it takes to get back to his owner but there’s very little fear for me that the horse will not achieve its goal.

I love the environments that Joey ends up traveling to.  Joey as a horse has no concept of culture or how torn apart countries are by war.  The only thing Joey cares about is being loved and cared for wherever he goes.  There is something remarkable about a horse with emotions who sees no difference in race and no differences in language or culture.  There is something inviting and warm about Joey and horses in general because of that.   The warmth that Joey displays towards others by just learning from them is what this film really should have been about.

The problem with War Horse is that every emotion is predictable and feels forced.  Spielberg direction practically tells the audience what to feel.  I despise when director’s show us everything when they really should let the story tell itself.  If War Horse had a stronger story with more trials and tribulations for Joey than it would be a film I could fully support.  Alas, Spielberg’s first film in three years does nothing to capture my heart or enliven my sense of wonder and imagination.  War Horse should have battled harder to keep me emotionally connected and invested.

Film:

Reolay Value:

 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a suspense thriller directed by David Fincher and written by Steven Zaillian based on the novel by Steig Larsson.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo introduces us to Mikael Blomkvist, a prominent journalist who lost a case against a man named Hans-Erik Wennerström.   Mikael decides to withdraw from being co-owner and writer of Millenium magazine because he lost his case against Hans.  Mikael almost immediately receives an offer from a man named Henrik Vanger to solve a murder mystery in his family.  Mikael tells Henrik he is uninterested in solving the mystery despite being offered double his current salary to do so.  Henrik begs for Mikael’s help and offers one final incentive: the information that would help put Hans-Erik Wennerström in jail.  Mikael accepts the offer and with the help of researcher Lisbeth Salander attempts to solve a forty year old family murder mystery.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an intense film.  The strength of this film is its story.  In cinema, there’s this long held thought that dialogue tells us almost everything we need to know about the main characters of a story but in the case of this film dialogue doesn’t even need to be said.  I could watch this film muted reading closed captioning and subtitles and still be just as immersed in the characters and their actions as if sound were used.  There is such a quiet intensity and unease that courses through the tone of this film.  This film has bleak and dark undertones throughout its runtime and the film is relentless in its pacing.  The intensity comes from the fact that Mikael could be found out by the killer at any point in the film.  Daniel Craig plays Mikael as a man at the end of his rope professionally and how he goes about learning about Henrik’s family members to solve this mystery is nothing short of amazing.  He works diligently to find out how all of the relationships of this crazy family function and that’s how he is able to narrow down his suspects.  I love that David Fincher allows the camera to just take you through the investigation process rather than having dialogue explain how things and people in the film are connected.

Rooney Mara has the difficult task of bringing Lisbeth Salander to life for American audiences.  Lisbeth is socially awkward, confrontational and analytical.  I greatly enjoyed watching Mara’s portrayal of Lisbeth as she navigates through life.  The reason why Rooney Mara’s portrayal of Lisbeth works so well in my opinion is the way she holds herself.  Lisbeth in this film is incredibly fragile but also confident and highly intelligent when it comes to analytical work.  The standout scene for me involving Lisbeth has to be the moment where she confronts her social worker.  The social worker had raped her the night before in exchange for the money she needed and in retaliation to such a visceral and abusive act, Lisbeth takes revenge on her abuser by making it impossible for him to sit down and tattooing “rapist pig” on his chest and stomach.  In that scene alone, you can visually see her sadness and fury at being taken advantage of and violated because it’s written all over her face.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo works as an adaptation of a foreign work mostly because director David Fincher took his time and allowed the audience to be engrossed by the films story and invested in the film’s characters.   The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the last unforgettable film of 2011 and the one that gives me the most hope for the future of suspenseful cinema.

Film:

Replay Value:

 

The Descendants

The Descendants is a film directed by Alexander Payne.  Payne is someone moviegoers will know because he directed the films About Schmidt, Election, and Sideways.  The Descendants stars George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause, Matthew Lillard, and Judy Greer.  The film revolves a man trying to connect with his two daughters after their mother is injured in an accident.

The Descendants is the kind of film that can break your heart the longer you watch it.  George Clooney as the father of two daughters is perfectly imperfect.  Clooney plays Matt King as a man who is not only broken hearted by his wife’s condition but also he is frustrated by having to parent both of his daughters by himself.  I loved the way Clooney’s frustrations played out from one scene to the next.  Alexander played with depth by Shailene Woodley curses a lot and has anger towards her mother and father.  She has a scene in the beginning where she learns how severe her mother’s injuries have gotten and her reaction to the news is not only jarring but painfully realistic.  Amara Miller who plays Scottie has some of the film’s few laughs.  The laughs don’t come from funny jokes she tells or physical movements she makes, they come from her feeble attempts to emulate her older sister Alexandra.

The place where I believe The Descendants succeeds the most is with its characters.  All of the films characters are honest about their emotions.  The raw emotions these characters feel gives the film its heart.  Matt King is honest with his wife about problems in their marriage.  Alexandra is honest with her dad about how she personally feels about her mom and how the accident that resulted in her mother’s hospitalization has affected her.  Every actor plays their part in this film with honest and a deep respect for the material they have been given.  This film has a lot of heart because of the natural performances the cast gives.  My main problem with this film is its continuous usage of foul language.  All of the characters while natural and relatable seem to believe that the only way to release the anger they feel inside is to curse.  This was a major turn off for me in such a powerful film.  In some cases, the amount of cursing hindered the strength of the story for me.

This film is ultimately about a broken family supporting each other during a very intense and difficult crisis.  Films like this exist to teach us how much we should be valuing and appreciating our own families.  I don’t think Alexander Payne was trying to show the audience how a broken family heals after a tragedy; I believe he wanted to show us that when you lose everything family will remind you where home is.  Home is in the heart where love and family lives.

Film:

Replay Value:

 

Hugo

Hugo is a film directed by Martin Scorsese with a screenplay for the film written by John Logan.  The film stars Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Sir Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Christopher Lee, and in brief appearances Jude Law.  The film centers on a boy named Hugo (Asa Butterfield) who lives and works in 1930’s Paris, France as a clockmaker in a train station. Hugo makes sure that all the clocks in the train station are always in order, but Hugo has a small side ambition. Hugo’s one ambition in life is to fix a broken automaton that his father was working on just before he passed away.  Hugo believes if he fixes the broken automaton it will write a message from his deceased father.  Hugo finds the last piece needed to fix the automaton when he befriends a local girl named Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz).  She works in a toy shop with her godfather Papa George (Sir Ben Kingsley).  Together, Hugo and Isabelle embark on an adventure to solve the mystery behind the message written by the automaton.

Hugo is one of those rare films that takes the audience an emotional journey.  Asa Butterfield is fantastic in his role as Hugo.  The friendship between Isabelle and Hugo is very believable because of how much they love adventure and each other’s company.  The emotional core of this film comes from Hugo’s connection to his father who we see in flashback.  The relationship Hugo and his father share is sweet and genuine.  The sadness Hugo feels is not only a result of his father’s untimely death, but also the loneliness and isolation he feels on a daily basis.  In the end, I think Hugo secretly desired to belong somewhere or to someone. 

The character that spoke to me most was the character of Isabelle.  Isabelle, throughout the film, was always an intrepid explorer.  She was always ready to help Hugo solve the mysteries that they were faced with throughout the film.  Isabelle is the one character of the film that was confident and sure of her own self worth.  I really liked the fact that she was able to stand up to or trick multiple characters in this film, all in the name of a good adventure.

The direction in this film by filmmaker Martin Scorsese was nothing short of amazing.  He uses a zoom shot at the beginning of the film to take us through all of Paris which inevitably leads us to our protagonist.  He always focuses his attention on the action of his characters never truly using angled shots.  Scorsese worked hard in this film to keep the audience at the center of the action with his protagonist.  Hugo is in 3D and while I have distaste for this cinematic film technique it is used to great effectiveness here.  The snow moves toward your face in the opening zoom shot, papers fly when a box is opened, and objects fall towards you when dropped.  Hugo is a remarkable experience in 3D.  The cinematography by Robert Richardson makes every color in the film purposely bright and inviting.  This is especially useful for the scenes that take place in the main part of the train station.  The use of light and color makes you feel like you are an adventure with these characters.

Hugo is Martin Scosese’s love letter to cinema and he captures our hearts with his first children’s film.  This film is proof that movies can enchant.

Film:

Replay Value: