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Review – Mission: Impossible V – Rogue Nation (12a) [2015]

MI-V - Title banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • Christopher McQuarrie – The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie, Jack Reacher, Edge of Tomorrow

Cast:

  • Tom Cruise – Eyes Wide Shut, Valkyrie, Mission: Impossible I-IV, Jack Reacher I & II
  • Jeremy Renner – SWAT, Mission: Impossible IV, The Avengers Assemble I & II, , Captain America III
  • Alec Baldwin – The Aviator, To Rome With Love, Blue Jasmine, Still Alice, Caught Stealing
  • Rebecca Ferguson – Drowning Ghost, The White Queen, Hercules, Despite The Falling Snow
  • Ving Rhames – Pulp Fiction, Surrogates, Mission: Impossible I-IV, Operator
  • Simon Pegg – Big Nothing, Mission Impossible III-IV, Paul, Star Trek I, II & III
  • Sean Harris – Harry Brown, The Borgias, Prometheus, ‘71, Macbeth
  • Simon McBurney – The Last King of Scotland, Harry Potter VII(i), The Borgias, The Theory of Everything
  • Tom Hollander – Enigma, Pirates of the Caribbean II-III, American Dad!, Jungle Book: Origins
  • Jens Hultén – The Border, Skyfall, Ragnorak, Johan Falk: Lockdown

Music Composer:

  • Joe Kraemer – The Thirst, Confession of A Gangster, Jack Reacher, Titans of Justice

What has become of the Mission: Impossible franchise? The first film was a proper espionage thriller with a tough mission and the odd elaborate action stunt to give credence to the film’s title. But by the second film, the espionage element had given way to entertaining, if unfeasible action stunts and the veneration of Tom Cruise’s alter ego, Ethan Hunt. And by the fourth film, the storyline had given way to even more entertaining, unfeasible action stunts and venerated Tom Cruise’s alter ego to the point of deification. So what could one expect from Mission: Impossible V – Rogue Nation (M:I-V)? Well, more of the same really!

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) working together to uncover the Syndicate.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) working together to uncover the Syndicate.

M:I-V centres round Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise, who else?) hunting down the Syndicate, an international criminal organisation, and its leader Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). However, the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) that Ethan is part of is being closed down by CIA Director Alen Hunley (Alec Baldwin). The CIA believes that the Syndicate does not exist and that the IMF is causing embarrassment to the CIA/America due to its unorthodox methods. They want Ethan to turn himself in.

But rather than hand himself in, Ethan chooses to go rogue so as to uncover the Syndicate and to find Lane, himself. And he will start by going after Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson).

That is the vague outline of M:I-V’s plot. But, in truth, M:I-V has no plot. The film flagrantly does not care for the spy thriller ingredient that made the first film so interesting. Instead, M:I-V prefers to go from one entertaining, over-the-top action stunt to another. Indeed, it wouldn’t matter which order the action stunts occurred as the storyline and the dialogue make no sense at all; although, having the first stunt as the one where Ethan hangs off a taking-off aeroplane does set the tone for the rest of the movie. And, astonishingly, Director Christopher McQuarrie manages to maintain this tone for its entire duration. The stunts get ever more outlandish and creative to the extent that one has to question who came up with these ideas (and how) because they are ingenious.

Isla Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) on a bike and in possession of something Ethan needs. Thus, a high-speed bike chase is about to begin...

Isla Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) on a bike and in possession of something Ethan needs. Thus, a high-speed bike chase is about to begin…

However, M:I-V does not solely consist of ingenious, if totally unrealistic action stunts. The film consists of a good amount of banter between the protagonists (more so than in previous instalments), and gives viewers the sense that a family unit is developing within the IMF now that Tom Cruise and Ving Rhames has been in all five films, Simon Pegg has been in them since the third one, and Jeremy Renner since the fourth. Each member of the team has a particular role and whether it is Cruise as Action Man come again and the mastermind who exposes the movie’s villain(s); Rhames as Ethan’s reliable sidekick Luther; Simon Pegg as Ethan’s reliable but goofy, tech-nerd Benji; or Renner as Ethan’s boss Brandt (who Ethan regularly disobeys to ever positive results), each one of them looks like they are enjoying their roles and they make some funny puns whilst they’re at it as well.

Unsurprisingly, Cruise, Rhames, Pegg and Renner all play well in M:I-V even if they do nothing spectacular. Rather, it is the newcomers that arguably make the most impressions on viewers. Rebecca Ferguson, as the ambiguous Ilsa Faust, makes the greatest impression of them all. She is beautiful, sexy and can kick arse! That she holds up against Tom Cruise (and may, heaven forbid, outshine him in his own film) speaks volumes for her talents as an actress.

Yet, the rest of the cast do not have the same impact on viewers. Sean Harris plays decently as the main villain, Solomon Lane. Harris/Lane is cold, unflinching and meant to be scary. But because he is given little screen time or background story, audiences don’t get the chance to feel much for him by the end. For similar reasons, one feels little for Alec Baldwin as the CIA director and Simon McBurney as the head of the British secret services, even if neither of them play badly with the material or time they’re given.

Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the ice-cold, sociopathic villain at the head of the Syndicate.

Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the ice-cold, sociopathic villain at the head of the Syndicate.

It would have been intriguing to learn more about these characters as they seem, ostensibly, to have depth and more to say for themselves. But to explore them would have meant that the film-makers would have had to come up with a genuine storyline and spent less time showing us how awesome Tom Cruise is. And that would have defeated the whole purpose of M:I-V.

Over-all, M:I-V is a highly enjoyable action film. It has little place for clever espionage and has a veneer of a storyline that does not work at any level. Nevertheless, the movie glorifies Tom Cruise; has plenty of action sequences; several implausible action stunts; good chemistry and humour from the returning cast; and includes a gorgeous, strong female character that could fit seamlessly into any Marvel comic-book film. Thus, M:I-V delivers unashamedly on everything it sets out to achieve.

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Review – Still Alice (12a) [2015]

Still Alice - titler banner

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Directors:

  • Richard Glatzer – Grief, The Fluffer, The Last of Robin Hood
  • Wash Westmoreland – The Fluffer, Totally Gay!, The Last of Robin Hood

Cast:

  • Julianne Moore – Nine Months, Children of Men, The Kids Are Alright, Seventh Son
  • Alec Baldwin – Pearl Harbour, The Aviator, Blue Jasmine, Mission: Impossible V
  • Kristen Stewart – Jumper, Twilight I-V, Snow White and The Huntsman, Clouds of Sils Maria
  • Kate Bosworth – Remember The Titans, 21, Straw Dogs, Before I Wake
  • Shane McRae – All Over Again, Killer Pad, The Help, Stereotypically You
  • Hunter Parrish – Steal Me, Freedom Writers, It’s Complicated, Hell Of A View
  • Stephen Kunken – The Girl In The Park, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Wolf of Wall Street, Bridge Of Spies

Music Composer:

  • Ilan Eshkeri – Layer Cake, Kick-Ass, Coriolanus, Black Sea, Don Verdean

Some films have scenes that are genuinely heart-breaking. When Brooks Hatlen (James Whitmore) hangs himself in The Shawkshank Redemption, when Oscar Schindler breaks down in Schindler’s List, and when Simba tries to awaken his fallen father in The Lion King, viewers cannot help but weep at the poignancy of the scenes. Yet, these are only particular scenes that last so long. Still Alice, on the other hand, makes one feel like weeping for pretty much the movie’s entire run time as it is so heart-breaking.

Professor Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) lecturing  her students at the start of the film.

Professor Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) lecturing her students at the start of the film.

Still Alice is based on the book with the same title by Lisa Genova. The movie revolves round Alice Howland (Julianne Moore), a phenomenally intelligent and knowledgeable linguistics professor at Columbia University. She is happily married to John (Alec Baldwin), and between them they have three children: Anna (Kate Bosworth), Tom (Hunter Parrish) and Lydia (Kristen Stewart). They live in a nice house in a good suburb in New York and they have a summer beach house too. Then, at the age of fifty, Alice is diagnosed with Early On-set Alzheimer’s Disease and her world rapidly falls apart.

Still Alice has a simple plot that is expressed exceptionally well. Directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland have uniquely concentrated (with the exception of one scene) on how the disease affects the victim from the victim’s point of view. To illustrate the moments when the Alzheimer’s is hitting Alice, the world around her fades into fuzziness and she forgets where she is and who she is talking to. This makes for painful viewing as Alice was once an intelligent woman. And the pain viewers feel is enhanced by the superb dialogue that explains what Alice is going through in her (failing) mind. More often than not, the dialogue is so painful, one cries as hard as one did in The Shawshank Redemption, Schindler’s List and The Lion King. Indeed, somehow, every time the word ‘Alzheimer’s’ is mentioned, it feels like a blow to the heart, and the blows hurt even more when we learn that the disease is hereditary.

Alice and John (Alec Baldwin) trying to enjoy some good time together whilst Alice is still herself.

Alice and John (Alec Baldwin) trying to enjoy some good time together whilst Alice is still herself.

Undoubtedly, the key to why Still Alice hurts so much is because of Julianne Moore as the titular Alice. Moore has a rare, graceful beauty which works in her favour in, arguably, the performance of her career. (And that is saying something coming from her extraordinary portfolio). Suffice to say, Moore is fully deserving of her triumphs at the Golden Globes, the Baftas, the Screen Writer’s Guild Awards, and the Oscars because she stunningly encapsulates the problems facing a person with Alzheimer’s. Anyone who has seen a relative, friend or family friend suffer from Alzheimer’s (or Dementia or Parkinson’s) knows what is coming for Moore’s character, and one watches with horror as the disease rapidly robs Alice of her memory, her intelligence, her grace and her dignity. Toward the end of the film, there is a scene wherein one can see the contrast between Alice’s/Moore’s graceful appearance at the beginning of the movie and her appearance toward the end of it. Again, it makes for painful viewing and highlights why Moore was the perfect person for the role.

The rest of the cast take on a supporting role (quite literally) throughout the film. Of all the supporting cast, Kristen Stewart is given the most screen-time and exposition. It is easy to sneer at Stewart due to her numerous Golden Raspberry nominations and victories, her terrible acting in the Twilight Saga and Snow White and The Huntsman, and her affair with Rupert Sanders whilst dating Robert Pattinson (and on top of that she plays a failing actress in Still Alice). Nevertheless, Stewart actually plays her role in Still Alice really well and with enough subtlety and nuance to hint that critics may not always have a field day with her in the future.

Stewart might be the most noteworthy member of the supporting cast, but she is not the only one to play with subtlety and nuance. Alec Baldwin, Kate Bosworth and Hunter Parrish all play their parts with equal skill too, to portray the Howlands as a normal, (dys)functioning family. Their character’s, like Stewart’s, may not have anything of note to say, and nor do they add much to the story. But this is not a problem because Still Alice is about how the disease impacts upon Alice, and not how it impacts upon her family.

Alice explaining to Lydia (Kristen Stewart) what it is like for her to have Alzheimer's.

Alice explaining to Lydia (Kristen Stewart) what it is like for her to have Alzheimer’s.

No, the movie’s biggest problem is its ending. The final scene just ends anti-climactically, as if Glatzer and Westmoreland ran out of ideas and decided enough was enough. (One hopes that that was not the case, but it feels like it.) Another issue, perhaps, is that the film’s music is unmemorable and that it has been heard before in other films. However, these are relatively small matters, and backhandedly highlight the brilliance of Still Alice.

Over-all, Still Alice is a poignant film that makes for heart-breaking and teary viewing. Due to the acting and the dialogue, the movie superbly demonstrates and elucidates upon how a person with Alzheimer’s Disease sees the world. Central to the film, is Julianne Moore’s incredible performance as the eponymous Alice as it enables viewers to feel the pain that a victim of the disease goes through. In turn, this leaves viewers devastated long after Still Alice concludes.

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