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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 – Gravity 3D (15) [2013]

Gravity - title banner2

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Alfonso Cuarón – Love In The Time of Hysteria, Harry Potter III, Children of Men

Cast:

  • Sandra Bullock – Crash, Premonition, The Blind Side, Minions
  • George Clooney – Syriana, The American, The Ides of March, The Monuments Men
  • Ed Harris – A Beautiful Mind, The Way Back, Man On A Ledge, Frontera

Music Composer:

  • Steven Price – Attack The Block, The World’s EndFury

Movies that have delved into the realms of outer space have usually fallen somewhere in the triangle of the sublime, the ridiculous and the farcical. Avatar, Star Wars I-VI, and Lost In Space give credence to this (erratic) trinity in varying ways. Among the spaceships, the ray-gun shoot-outs, and the convergence with antenna-eyed or raptor-style aliens, there has been little room (ironically) for realism in a film set in space. Until now. It may have none of the above, but Gravity gives us a true and uncomfortable feel for what it is like to be outside of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) making some repairs to the shuttle in view of Earth.

Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) making some repairs to the shuttle in view of Earth.

Gravity centres round Dr. Ryan Stone (Sadra Bullock), a Mission Specialist. She is on her first expedition into space, led by Matt (George Clooney), a veteran on his last voyage into space. Dr. Stone is making repairs to the shuttle that she and Matt are flying with, when debris from an explosion on a Russian satellite smashes into their shuttle. With the shuttle damaged irreparably, Dr. Stone must find another shuttle if she wishes to return to Earth.

That is essentially the storyline for Gravity. One problem with the plot is that the film uses up its central premise within 30 of its 91 minute running time. This means that for the last hour, the movie recycles itself instead of flesh-eating alien invasions or putting inter-galactic arsenals to the test.

But for those who would rather see another Star Wars, Prometheus or Elysium, do not lose faith. Gravity is very engaging. It has moments of knuckle-whitening tension, amplified by the fast beat, gradual crescendo and sudden silence of the music; all whilst our main character tries to reach another space vessel before her oxygen runs out. In respect of tension, the movie is similar to Sanctum; only in Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón’s directing style increases one’s ability to empathise with the protagonists’ predicament.

Predominantly, the film is seen through Dr. Stone’s eyes (or rather her space-helmet), as she swims around in the boundless, atmosphere-less blackness. Without a centre of gravity, the movie enables viewers to appreciate what it’s like to be in space, rotating endlessly unless one can find something to hold onto. And unlike (the lamentable) Lost In Space, Gravity gives audiences a genuine taste for how scary it would be to get lost in space and to lose contact with the only people who might be able to find you.

Matt (George Clooney), from behind his space helmet, gazing and admiring Earth, amidst the peace of outer space.

Matt (George Clooney), from behind his space helmet, gazing and admiring Earth, amidst the peace of outer space.

In part, one feels the depth of this horror because of Sandra Bullock’s energetic performance. Her character is almost always in panic (as any human being would be in her situation) and this exacerbates Dr. Stone’s (somewhat) complex personality. Due to an unhappy episode in her past, we see her mindset switch from despair to a willingness to live on (and vice-versa) repeatedly. This is something which viewers can relate to on a human level, and it was very important that Bullock achieved this feat. For much of Gravity, she is alone on screen, and if she had failed to show Dr. Stone’s personality to the full, audiences would likely have stopped caring about her.

The only other significant character in the film is Matt, played by George Clooney. And Clooney (surprise surprise) plays himself again as the smooth-talking, handsome wise-head, who goes and comes back (for plot convenience) to give sage advice. That is not to say that Clooney performs his role badly. It is just that we have seen this too many times already.

Bullock and Clooney aside, Gravity is remarkably consistent with its depiction of reality in space. Too often in (bad) films, one sees/hears characters breathing and talking in space. Here, however, there is none of that nonsense! The only time one hears sounds is through the space suit’s microphone, which is so refreshing (and illustrates that not all filmmakers have the paucity of knowledge of physics as Sidney Furie, the director of the rightly-maligned Superman IV: The Quest For Peace.)

Dr. Stone trying to grip a bar on the shuttle, or else she could be find herself adrift in the endless, empty abyss of space surrounding her.

Dr. Stone trying to grip a bar on the shuttle, or else she could be find herself adrift in the endless, empty abyss of space surrounding her.

Moreover, audiences are treated to stunning visual effects. The emptiness that is outer space, in all its wonder, is shown to be disconcertingly large. What’s more, the 3D (for once) enhances the visual experience, even more so than it did in Avatar and Star Trek II: Into Darkness. In Gravity, when debris flies at Dr. Stone, one jerks one’s head out of the way, believing he/she will otherwise be hit! Considering how often the 3D does little more than darken the film and add a couple more quid to the cinema ticket, one must applaud Cuarón for augmenting the experience in a positive and noteworthy way.

Over-all, Gravity is a great demonstration of what being in outer space feels like. That the film has no alien encounters or futuristic ray-gun fights gives the film an ironically grounded dimension that has been sorely lacking in so many other movies that have ventured into space. Due to Sandra Bullock’s great acting, the extraordinary level of consistency regarding the physics of space, the amazing special effects and the 3D, Cuarón has treated us to outer space’s awe-inspiring massiveness, as well as how frightening space can be when out there, lost.

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Review – Star Trek II: Into Darkness 3D (12a) [2013]

Star Trek 2 - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director:

  • JJ Abrams – Lost, Star Trek I-III, Star Wars: Episode VII

Producer:

  • Damon Lindeloff – Lost, Prometheus, The Leftovers

Cast:

  • Chris Pine – Unstoppable, This Means War, Jack Ryan
  • Zachary Quinto – Heroes, Margin Call, The Invitation
  • Zoe Saldana – Avatar I & II, Colombiana, Blood Ties
  • Karl Urban – The Lord of the Rings II & III, The Bourne Supremacy, Riddick
  • Simon Pegg – Paul, The World’s End, Mission: Impossible III-IV & V
  • Alice Eve – Entourage, Men In Black III, Cold Comes The Night
  • Benedict Cumberbatch – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Sherlock, The Hobbit II
  • Bruce Greenwood – Barney’s Version, Super 8, Devil’s Knot
  • Peter Weller – The Sin Eater, 24, Dragon Eyes

Music Composer:

One of the most striking and farcical features of action movies is that there is much shooting, running and chasing, in one form or another, with key aspects of the plots taking place under such circumstances. The Die Hard, Mission: Impossible, and Fast and the Furious franchises all have this odd and surreal symptom. JJ Abrams and Damon Lindeloff, despite creating an enjoyable and watchable film, have taken this symptom to its zenith in Star Trek II: Into Darkness.

Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) mulling over whether it would be a good idea to take Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) on board.

Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) mulling over whether it would be a good idea to take Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) on board.

Star Trek II begins with the galaxy under threat from John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a former Starfleet agent. Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is ordered by Admiral Alexander Marcus (Peter Weller) to lead the USS Enterprise ship to Kronos and kill Harrison. Kirk takes with him Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto), Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban), Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott (Simon Pegg), and Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) for assistance.

In essence, that is the plot for Star Trek II: Into Darkness and it makes for an easy and entertaining 132 minutes, irrespective of whether one is a Star Trek fan or not, in the same way as the 2009 Star Trek film did. Moreover, the special effects in Into Darkness are terrific, and the 3D works a treat as well, especially in IMAX, which was designed for such films.

Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) talking with his girlfriend, Uhura (Zoe Saldana).

Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) talking with his girlfriend, Uhura (Zoe Saldana).

While Into Darkness has much in common with the 2009 Star Trek movie, the sequel has many more contrived aspects to its storyline than the prequel. One can almost draw the plot arch as the film goes along. Fans, though, are more likely to forgive such plot problems than non-fans. That is, if fans and non-fans have a chance to think about the issues with the storyline while watching the film. JJ Abrams and Damon Lindeloff have made every plot detail and element in Into Darkness be done either on the run or in the midst of a shoot-out. It is as if they knew that the movie’s storyline makes as much sense as Lost did by the end. Abrams (with his trademark lens-flare) and Lindeloff constantly distract viewers from being able to realise the plot’s deficiencies, here, in the same way that shoot-outs, explosions, chase scenes and stunts divert audiences’ attentions from the flaws in the various Die Hard, Mission: Impossible, and Fast and the Furious movies.

Provided one does not focus too much on the storyline of Into Darkness, one can enjoy the contrast in personalities between the impulsive Captain Kirk and the cold, rational Commander Spock, and both Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto play their respective roles very decently. There is also more humour than expected between the two of them, which is always welcome. The same can be said for Karl Urban’s performance as Bones and Simon Pegg’s as Scotty, as they play their roles well without being anything special.

Alas, the same cannot be said for Zoe Saldana as Uhura this time, or Alice Eve as Carol Marcus. Uhura’s role in Into Darkness, unlike in the prequel, is too peripheral and meaningless to be remembered, and Saldana does not do herself justice when on screen; and sad to say, the only thing of note that Eve does as Carol Marcus is to stand in front of Kirk in a bikini. (And the point of that scene was…?)

The villain, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), fighting against his adversaries who are out to kill him.

The villain, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), fighting against his adversaries who are out to kill him.

Yet, the real star of the film is Benedict Cumberbatch. His acting, as the villain, is head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. When Cumberbatch speaks, it does not matter what he says or how ludicrous it may sound because it is stated with authority to the extent that implausible matters are believable. Regardless of whether one is a Star Trek fan or not, one should almost watch Into Darkness for Cumberbatch’s performance alone.

Over-all, Star Trek II: Into Darkness is an entertaining film for Star Trek fans and non-fans alike. The special effects are excellent, the relationship between Kirk and Spock is funnier than ever, and Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the villain is outstanding. Indeed, one does not even need to get over the movie’s virtually non-existent storyline and the ridiculous way in which everything is done at a hundred miles an hour to make up for the plot’s numerous shortcomings to fully appreciate the movie for what it is.

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Review – This Means War (12a) [2012]

Star Rating: 3/5

Films like Fantastic Four I & II, Salt and Immortals take themselves preposterously seriously. Whilst watching such movies, one is entitled to think that the films would have been better if the actors had not taken their roles with such (laughable) sincerity. Thankfully, This Means War does not take itself remotely seriously. As a corollary, and for other reasons, the film is highly enjoyable and amusing.

Tuck (Tom Hardy) doing his bit to make sure that Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) chooses him as her man.

This Means War is about two CIA agents, FDR Foster (Chris Pine – Star Trek I & II, Unstoppable, Rise of the Guardians) and Tuck (Tom Hardy – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Warrior, The Dark Knight Rises). They are the best of friends, work opposite one another, and have fought alongside each other in dangerous operations for America’s secret services.

But then they discover that they’re both dating the same girl, Lauren (Reese Witherspoon – Cruel Intentions, Walk The Line, Mud), who cannot make up her mind on who she likes more. Neither FDR nor Tuck are willing to pass and let the other have Lauren, so they decide to compete against one another to see who will woo her, using all kinds of equipment and tricks to achieve their objective.

Meanwhile, a Russian agent, called Heinrich (Til Schweiger – Inglorious Basterds, New Year’s Eve, The Courier), is on his way to America. Heinrich wants revenge against FDR and Tuck for killing his brother in a mission in Hong Kong.

FDR (Chris Pine) on a date with Lauren to win over her heart and triumph over Tuck, his friend and colleague.

The plot for This Means War is entertaining and easy to follow. There might be fewer action scenes than one might think, and certainly in contrast to the Die Hard series, Black Hawk Down, and Iron Man I & II. But This Means War compensates for this with the hysterically absurd lengths that FDR and Tuck go to so as to win over Lauren’s heart.

Just like with The Expendables, Knight And Day and Mission: Impossible IV, none of the cast take themselves seriously in the slightest. The main difference between those films and This Means War is that the latter movie has much better dialogue; almost every other line is a joke, and the banter between the actors is extremely humorous.

In a similar vein, the acting is ideal for this type of film. It is most unlikely that any member of the cast will get prestigious award nominations come January-February 2013, but all of the actors revel in their disingenuous roles, from the cocky, smooth-talking and good-looking Chris Pine; to the confident, yet level-headed (English CIA agent) Tom Hardy; to the indecisive and cute (noticeably revamped) Reese Witherspoon; to Lauren’s know-it-all, contradictory-advice giving sister, Trish (Chelsea Handler – Cattle Call, Hop, Fun Size).

Trish (Chelsea Handler) advising Lauren, as ever, to make up her mind and choose one of the two men she is simultaneously dating.

Despite the heavy focus on the dialogue and the acting, director McG (Charlie’s Angels, Terminator Salvation, Guilty) adopts conspicuously little by way of special effects. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Many action films, like Wanted, Captain America and Season of the Witch could have done with less CGIs and better dialogue and acting. The only problem for McG is that the few instances of special effects in his movie are done quite poorly; especially, when compared to the quality of those in Mission: Impossible IV.

Over-all, This Means War is a light, amusing and entertaining film. It has a cast that acts well for this type of film; that has great chemistry on screen; and that are easy on the eye. Perhaps directors in the future will learn a lesson from This Means War and inform their casts not to take their roles overly seriously when it is not necessary. Otherwise, audiences are destined to watch more movies where the actors appear unconvincing and hollow, like in Fantastic Four I & II, Salt and Immortals.

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Review – Unstoppable (12a) [2010]

Star Rating: 4/5

A film about a runaway freight train was never going to be a classic. Like The Taking of Pelham 123, Speed and Gone in Sixty Seconds, to mention three of countless such films, one could only hope that this film would be entertaining and nerve-racking. It is both!

When I first saw the trailer for Unstoppable, it reminded me of an episode from Thomas The Tank Engine, entitled The Runaway. As a kid, seeing Thomas steaming away without his driver and fireman made my heart pound every time. Except, this film is not about a little tank engine with two coaches running down a harmless train line. Unstoppable is based on true events about an unmanned monster freight-train, half a mile long, travelling at such a speed it can demolish anything in its wake. Worse, it is coupled to wagons containing highly inflammable/explosive materials, going through populated areas and heading straight towards a curve at Stanton, a densely populated town in southern Pennsylvania. Worse still, a group of school-children heading for a field trip, are on the same line as the runaway train heading for a collision!

Will and Frank on a siding trying to work out how they are going to stop the train

If the situation is not enough to put one on edge; the director, Tony Scott (Top Gun, The Taking of Pelham 123, Stoker), constantly changes scenes back and forth during conversations between officials, managers and the main characters to induce further panic into the audience. The fast-beats, the crescendos and the sudden silences ensure that viewers will never take their eyes of the screen.

Unlike the plot and the music, the acting is not as dramatic. Indeed, one thing that should be noted is how un-melodramatic and realistic the acting is. Frank (Denzel Washington – American Gangster, The Inside Man) and Will (Chris Pine – Star Trek I & II, This Means War), as normal railway drivers, do not have the most challenging of roles. Yet, they play them well without reverting to cringe-worthy clichés. Despite understanding the gravity of the situation, and reacting to it in the best way they feel they can; Frank and Will spare some time for banter and heart-to-heart conversations. After-all, what else can they do in their train’s cabin whilst they hurry along the line to try and catch the monster freight-train?

Nothing gets in the way of the monster runaway train.

The realism of their roles is similarly reflected by the behaviour of their manager, Connie (Rosario Dawson – Sin City, Trance), who wants to save as many lives as possible; and her boss, Galvin (Kevin Dunn – Transformers), who has several factors to take into account, such as commercial, financial, damage to infrastructure and, lastly, human life. Connie and Galvin are constantly on the phone to one another (as well as to Frank), trying to solve the problem as to how to stop the train. Whilst on the phone, they speak in a relatively cordial manner; off the phone, the number of expletives they shout about one another is both realistic and funny. Indeed, one could imagine this occurring in an office in an under-pressure situation.

The realistic elements to the film, the music and the plot make for easy and entertaining viewing. By no means is Unstoppable a five-star film; but one’s adrenaline will be doing overtime long before the end of the movie.

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