Monthly Archives: December 2011

Review – Mission: Impossible IV – Ghost Protocol (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 3.5/5

The accomplishments of Ethan Hunt, America’s most implausible secret agent, throughout the Mission: Impossible franchise, have been nothing short of incredible (in the true sense of the word). Whether it is dodging bullets and explosions; going down elevator shafts; removing countless different face-masks; procuring files from encrypted computer systems; or tracking down his enemies across the world and killing them, Ethan has never let his country down. In entertaining fashion, Mission: Impossible IV – Ghost Protocol is more of the same, just with the latest technological gadgets.

The villian, ‘Cobalt’ (Michael Nyqvist), talking on the phone to execute his orders to launch a missile.

After a failed mission in Budapest to get hold of Russian nuclear missile codes, the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) Secretary (Tom Wilkinson – Shakespeare In Love, The Debt, Denial) launches the mission ‘Ghost Protocol’ and sends Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise – Mission Impossible I-III, Valkyrie, One Shot) into the field with a team, consisting of Benji (Simon Pegg – Mission Impossible III, Paul, Star Trek I & II), Jane (Paula Patton – Déjà Vu, Precious, Disconnect) and Brandt (Jeremy Renner – S.W.A.T., The Hurt Locker, The Avengers Assemble). The IMF needs to find an agent known by the codename ‘Cobalt’ (Michael Nyqvist – Arn: The Knight Templar, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Disconnect), who has apparently got access to the codes, and stop him from launching nuclear war.

In the meantime, the Kremlin is threatened by a bomb attack and believes that the Americans are behind it. Thus, Ethan and his team, in a mission that will take them to many countries, must go rogue if they are to succeed.

The storyline for Ghost Protocol is quite simple at its core. It undoubtedly lacks the realism of Munich and The Debt (and even makes James Bond films appear plausible). Nevertheless, director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, 1906) gives one what he/she would want to see in a film like Ghost Protocol, such as plenty of explosions (although nowhere near as many as in the colossal Transformers III), and stunts that are so ludicrous one needs a sack of salt to believe what he/she is watching (for a pinch of the stuff would not be enough).

If he’s not jumping down an a shoot, Ethan (Tom Cruise) is climbing the tallest skyscraper in Dubai.

Yet, as has been typical with the Mission: Impossible series, Ghost Protocol’s plot has a convoluted nature that differentiates this franchise from the Bond films and the Bourne series. Consequently, Ghost Protocol may not be so easy to follow. Whilst audiences are likely to realise that Ethan and his team are hunting ‘Cobalt’, the various other characters that flow in and out of the movie, as well as the subplots, complicate the storyline unnecessarily.

Moreover, the film’s plot is not aided by the dialogue. Viewers with a brain would be advised not to scrutinise the conversations held by the characters. Rarely do the discussions make sense to the extent that it’s remarkable that the protagonists can even contribute to their conversations. (That they understand their instructions is nothing short of miraculous!)

At least none of the actors take their roles overly seriously; if they had done, their performances would have been as pitiful as those in Fantastic Four I & II and in Captain America. However, since there is little pretence on behalf of the protagonists of the ludicrous nature of the film, all of the actors give decent and humorous, if unmemorable, displays: Tom Cruise plays (probably himself) with the same arrogance and ingenuity that he is so accustomed to playing; Simon Pegg makes his usual goofy jokes, and is the same IT-wizard of Mission: Impossible III; Jeremy Renner reprises the skills he learned in S.W.A.T., without adding much more to the movie; and Paula Patton looks good and has a surprisingly large role (especially considering that the Mission: Impossible franchise has been dominated by Cruise showing the world that he is the latest version of Action Man).

The only one who loses out is the villain played by Michael Nyqvist, since he appears so little on screen. As a corollary, Nyqvist does not get the opportunity to show audiences of his capabilities as an actor, which he illustrated so well in the Swedish adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and its sequels.

Ethan and Jane (Paula Patton) dressed very nicely for a lavish party. Jane is hoping to catch someone’s eye.

Lastly, the special effects and the technical gadgets used throughout Ghost Protocol are outstanding. The effects may not look as spectacular as in Harry Potter VII: Part II, but they are certainly convincing. Similarly, the gadgets are fully up-to-date and employed as impressively as when Ethan used the then-new tool, called the internet, in Mission: Impossible I. (Oh how far we have advanced!)

Over-all, Ghost Protocol gives (Tom Cruise as) Ethan Hunt another chance to achieve the unachievable and save America (and the world) from catastrophe. The film throws in more explosions, impractical objectives and improbable scenarios, as well as the latest technology, to a franchise that has always made for senseless and outrageously far-fetched, but enjoyable viewing.

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Review – Another Earth (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Throughout the ages, humanity has wondered if life exists on planets other than Earth. But if life were to be found, would curious mankind jump at the chance to venture into the unknown and meet the aliens (even if they looked like stereotypical Martians with antennas)? Despite contemplating these issues (well maybe not the Martians bit), the indie movie Another Earth is not about the convergence of humanity with aliens. Rather, it is a story of regret and the need for redemption.

Rhoda (Brit Marling) sitting on her own in her room. This is how she spends much of her time when she is not working.

The film centres round a promising young girl, called Rhoda (Brit Marling – Political Disasters, Sound Of My Voice, The East), who lives in New Haven, Connecticut. After getting accepted to MIT, seventeen year old Rhoda goes to a party and gets drunk. That night, as she is driving home, well over the alcohol limit, it is announced on the radio that another planet, identical to Earth, has been spotted in the sky. (It is also believed that as there is an ‘Earth II’, there is a ‘twin’ of everyone on Earth proper.) Whilst driving drunk and looking at the luminous sapphire dot in the sky, Rhoda crashes into another car, injuring a music composer, John Burrows (William Mapother – Mission: Impossible II, The Grudge, Static), and killing his wife and infant son.

Four years later, Rhoda is released from prison. Her life seemingly ruined, she spends much time by herself, longing for redemption and a second chance. She tries to apologise to John for the misery she has caused him, but loses her nerve upon meeting him.

Rhoda’s dream is to go to ‘Earth II.’ When she learns of a competition to go there, Rhoda writes in, hoping that she will be chosen so she can start again.

The storyline for Another Earth is easy to follow for the most part. It is only the space travel/time travel at the end (a tricky matter that so often goes badly wrong in movies, such as Déjà Vu and The Time Traveller’s Wife) that might confuse viewers. That it works in this film is a credit to director Mike Cahill.

John (William Mapother) talking with Rhoda. He doesn't realise who she is.

At 92 minutes, Another Earth is not long and has been made in an interesting way. Unlike Jeff Nichols’s art-style choice for Take Shelter, Cahill chose well by adopting an amateur, arty approach for his movie. One may find it irritating that the camera trembles and goes out of focus every so often, and that scenes jerk harshly from one to the next. In addition, one may find it odd that there is little dialogue throughout the film (although, there is considerably more in the latter stages of the film than at the beginning). However, if the movie had been shot in a more conformist way, it would have risked becoming laughable (as what happened with Fantastic Four I & II and The Adjustment Bureau, amongst countless other films).

That is not to say that Another Earth has no flaws. ‘Earth II’ (constantly) appears at varying levels of proximity from our world in different scenes. Moreover, Earth proper has no gravitational or tidal problems caused by the shifting closeness of ‘Earth II,’ which is totally unrealistic. (Apparently, there was a scene to illustrate these issues, but it was cut from the final edition.)

The film has its deficiencies, but the acting is not one of them. Whilst not memorable either, Brit Marling and William Mapother play decently with what they’ve been given, and both perform admirably in one particular scene.

It is hard to appreciate the effect that killing John’s family, jail and the crushing of her original ambitions (whatever they were) has had on Rhoda. This is because for much of her time on screen Rhoda is alone in silence, entailing that one doesn’t feel much empathy for her plight. Only the lack of happiness on her face, devouring her of her attractiveness, gives us a hint into Rhoda’s suffering and her need for salvation. Marling pulls this all off well.

Rhoda looking at the magnificent 'Earth II' in the sky. She yearns to somehow get there and start anew..

In contrast, it is not difficult to have sympathy for John. That John’s a mess emphasises, more than words could, that John has not recovered from the loss of his family. That John is quite distant and says little at first rams home this point. Mapother performs John’s aloofness, sorrow, temper and tenderness with great professionalism.

All-in-all, Another Earth is an interesting premise and an unconventional film. It may have relatively few conversations and be far from action packed; yet, it has some decent performances and is something different. Furthermore, the movie has a comforting moral message, for there are times when one needs a second chance in life.

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Review – My Week With Marilyn (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Upon seeing the title My Week With Marilyn, one would think it was about a week that an individual spent alone with the mother of all blondes. Yet, the title, like Marilyn Monroe herself, is deceiving. The film is interestingly about Marilyn, and the person behind the icon who, in her day, took Hollywood by storm.

Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) taking Lucy (Emma Watson) on a date. Soon Lucy has to compete for Colin’s affection with someone far more glamorous.

The movie is based on true events and on the diary that a twenty-three year man wrote about his week-long affair with Marilyn when she came to England to shoot the film The Prince & The Showgirl in 1957. Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne – The Other Boleyn Girl, Black Death, Les Misérables) is an Eton-educated young adult, who wants to make his living as a film director, despite his parents’ disapproval. Shortly after moving to London, he gets a job as a third-assistant director, otherwise known as a ‘go-getter’, to Sir Lawrence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh – Henry V, Valkyrie, Wallander) as the latter acts and shoots the film, The Prince & The Showgirl. The movie stars Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams – Brokeback Mountain, Shutter Island, Oz: The Great & The Powerful) as Elsie.

Marilyn is problematical on set, which tries Olivier’s patience considerably. As she is frequently late for filming, Olivier regularly sends Colin to find out if she is ill or not. It is from this that a week long relationship develops between an awe-struck Colin and Marilyn.

The plot for My Week With Marilyn is straightforward. The pace of the film moves surprisingly quickly, as the scenes change one after the one rapidly. Yet, the storyline doesn’t really go anywhere. Consequently, the movie fast becomes tedious, making the ninety-nine minutes appear (aggravatingly) longer. That the dialogue, for the most part, is quite contrived does not aid the film either.

Sir Lawrence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) impatiently waiting for the perennially late Marilyn Monroe before he can begin filming. Frustration frequently gets the better of him.

Nevertheless, there are some strong performances in My Week With Marilyn, such as Judi Dench (Shakespeare In Love, Notes On A Scandal, Skyfall), Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh. Whilst Dench, as ever, plays her standard M-/Queen Elizabeth-type role with authority, Williams captures Marilyn Monroe brilliantly, highlighting her character’s insecurities, her alcohol and drug addictions, and her unhappy marriage with the author, Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott – Deep Impact, Mission: Impossible II, Last Passenger). Yet, at the same time, Williams also shows Marilyn to be witty, intelligent and encapsulating. From Williams’ performance, one can easily see why Marilyn was the sex-object of her day, captivating to watch and far from dumb.

In a similarly decent display, Branagh illustrates the reasons for why Olivier made the movie, The Prince & The Showgirl in 1957. Fearing that the British film industry was falling behind Hollywood (and trying to revive his own acting career), bringing in Marilyn was his way of trying to deal with the problem. Olivier’s apparent exasperation with Marilyn was not born out of her tardiness on set, but rather by his own fears that he was ‘past it’ (and that Marilyn was the glamorous future). Again, Branagh portrays all of this solidly, if not with excellence.

However, whilst the acting from those three characters is worth watching, the same cannot be said for Eddie Redmayne, Emma Watson (Harry Potter I-VII(ii), The Perks Of Being A Wallflower) and Dominic Cooper (Captain America: The First Avenger, The Devil’s Double, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter).  As the central character, Redmayne gives a weak performance. One does not believe that Colin is in awe of Marilyn throughout the film (much less that he’d worship the ground she walks on), which is a terrible failure on Redmayne’s behalf considering what the movie’s supposed to be about.

Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) playing up to her English audience by doing her trademark pose. No doubt, her fans were dumbstruck by it.

Likewise, Watson (again) flatters to deceive. Her character in the film may not be the inflexible rod that is Hermione Grainger in the Harry Potter series; nevertheless, Watson still comes across as uptight and two-dimensional. (Although, the lack of depth could be attributed more to director Simon Curtis than her.) As for Cooper, his performance as Marilyn’s aid is a great dip in comparison to his displays in The Devil’s Double. In that movie, there was intensity and consistency to his performances as Uday Hussein and Latif Yahia, not least in the Arabic accent. In My Week With Marilyn, Cooper’s character is pathetically shallow and his American accent is poor, often reverting to his normal English, south-London accent.

The acting may vary in quality, but one aspect of the film that cannot be questioned is the character’s 1950s-style clothing, hairstyles and gear. Nothing looks out of place, especially the ridiculously large cameras that the journalists carry. (Whether movie stars were harassed by the populous and the media in the 1950s like they are today is dubious. Then again, Marilyn was not the average celebrity either.)

Over-all, My Week With Marilyn is oddly fast-moving but dull; boring even. The bright spot for the film is undoubtedly Michelle Williams’s reincarnation of Marilyn Monroe. Williams brings forth all the troubles and qualities that her character possessed, illustrating that those who thought (or still think) that Marilyn was nothing more than an air-headed blonde were the real fools.

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