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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 – Elysium (15) [2013]

Elysium - title banner

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

  • Neil Blomkamp – District 9, Chappie

Cast:

  • Matt Damon – True Grit, The Adjustment Bureau, ContagionInterstellar
  • Jodie Foster – The Silence of the Lambs, Flightplan, Carnage
  • Alice Braga – I Am Legend, The Rite, Kill Me Three Times
  • Diego Luna – The Terminal, Criminal, Milk
  • William Fichtner – Crash, The Dark Knight, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • Sharlto Copley – District 9, The A-Team, Chappie
  • Emma Tremblay – The Judge

Music Composer:

  • Ryan Aman

Science fiction films set in the future have a knack for painting a bleak picture for humanity. That is, until an American hero decides that he’s had enough and rips up the regime as he knows it. In I Am Legend, a cure for cancer led to a mutation that practically wiped out humanity, bar Will Smith who tried to save mankind; in In Time, the poor scrounged in squalor in confined areas until their short-lived clocks ran out, while the rich lived forever in their luxurious areas, until Justin Timberlake broke the system; and in Oblivion, a victorious war against aliens led to the Earth being uninhabitable, until Tom Cruise saved it. Elysium also portrays a depressing picture for mankind, only this time it’s Matt Damon playing the predictable protagonist.

Los Angeles in 2154, depicting a run-down, third world city in which crime is rampant and dogs must eat dogs to survive.

Los Angeles in 2154, depicting a run-down, third world city in which crime is rampant and dogs must eat dogs to survive.

Elysium is based in the year 2154 and centres round Max (Matt Damon). Max lives on the overcrowded Earth, along with all the poor people, while the rich live on a luxurious space station called Elysium. Working in a factory, Max sustains an (avoidable) injury at work. He is told he has only five days to live.

But there is an alternative. Max must go to Elysium, where his ailments can be cured because the rich on Elysium are so far advanced that they have found cures for all health problems. The difficulty for Max is getting to Elysium as he can only travel there illegally. But to do so, he has to get past the aggressive androids that control Earth, as well as Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster), the Secretary of Defence for Elysium, who kills anyone attempting to illegally reach Elysium by using her mercenaries on Earth, such as Kruger (Sharlto Copley), to do her dirty work.

The premise for Elysium is good. Issues like why Elysium was built; how people came to be on Elysium; as well as class divisions and the practicalities of class mobility are fantastic starting points to engage audiences. Moreover, the special effects are brilliant. They look natural and give one a true feel for the world that director Neil Blomkamp has created.

The space station, Elysium, in which the crème of the crop of humanity dwell, with an awesome view of Earth to marvel over instead of a landscape.

The space station, Elysium, in which the crème of the crop of humanity dwell, with an awesome view of Earth to marvel over instead of a landscape.

But, oddly, Elysium fails to engross its viewers. The dialogue is cliché-ridden from three minutes in to the final scene, none of the above-mentioned matters are dealt with properly (if at all), and much of the plot is unoriginal and has been seen before; for example, emotionless (anal) robots controlling whole populations. This was handled in i,Robot (and Will Smith sorted out the problem back in 2004).

Apart from being derivative of other movies, Elysium’s plot rapidly descends into farce before the predictable futuristic ray-gun fight between the hero and the villain, and all the antagonists (all white as it happens) are unimaginative, one-dimensional swines.

The fact that all the villains in Elysium are white raises another problem with the film: its shamefully contrite thinly-veiled racist elements. All the poor, the ill-educated, and the criminals are either Mexican or black (bar Matt Damon), while the elites on Elysium are white with either English, French or white South African accents. Haven’t we moved on since the 19th-century? (Colonialism has ended after-all.)

Matters of racism aside, the acting is mixed by the cast. For the protagonists: Matt Damon does a decent job as the central protagonist without being noteworthy; Alice Braga plays okay as Max’s love interest/damsel-in-distress/the caring mother of Matilda (Emma Tremblay); and Diego Luna is fine as the leading gangster of the illegal (Mexican) underworld.

Max (Matt Damon) trying to help Frey (Alice Braga) and her daughter Matilda (Emma Tremblay) from aggressive androids and others.

Max (Matt Damon) trying to help Frey (Alice Braga) and her daughter Matilda (Emma Tremblay) from aggressive androids and others.

For the antagonists: Jodie Foster gives an unusually wooden performance, adopting an unnecessary English accent that looks like it has been bizarrely dubbed post-production (evidently her lines were not contrived enough first time round); William Fichtner is awful as… (I’m not really sure what his role was meant to be); yet, Sharlto Copley is absolutely brilliant as the psychopathic henchman. Granted, his role is that of a sadistic villain that one has generally seen before, but Copley plays it frighteningly well and makes his audience feel uncomfortable whenever he’s on the screen, which is an achievement. Unsurprisingly, Copley is the star of this average movie.

Over-all, Elysium is alright. The film has superb special effects and a solid basis with which to make a genuinely interesting movie, even if it is a miserable portrait of a future for mankind. However, Elysium fails to build on its strong foundations and, instead, is stuffed with clichés, subtle racism, standard storyline developments and stereotypical characters for the genre. And to top it up, Elysium has Matt Damon playing the role that Will Smith and Tom Cruise have made their own: the all American hero.

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Review – The Master (15) [2012]

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

  • Paul Thomas Anderson – Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood

Cast:

  • Joaquin Phoenix – Gladiator, We Own The Night, Her
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Ides of March, Moneyball, A Most Wanted Man
  • Amy Adams – Charlie Wilson’s War, The Fighter, Man of Steel
  • Ambyr Childers – Playback, Crossfire, Gangster Squad
  • Jesse Plemons – Paul, Battleship, Flutter

Tom Cruise and John Travolta are two of the most well-known members of the Church of Scientology. Following the former’s divorce to Katie Holmes earlier this year, the nature of the quasi-religion/cult, founded by L. Ron Hubbard in 1952, was came under media scrutiny, and not without some bad press. Yet, one key element that was not addressed during the Cruise-Holmes divorce was the type of individual who would join such a movement. The Master gives us some ideas in excellent fashion.

Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) looking like he needs to be seen by the men in white coats.

The Master is set during the 1950s, centred round Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix). Freddie is a naval veteran who is yet to find peace with himself after World War II (WWII). He is suffering from a multitude of psychological issues and drinking anything to excess that he can get his hands on.

Randomly, he finds himself aboard a ship that is being borrowed by a movement, called The Cause. There, he finds himself mesmerised by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the charismatic leader of the cult, believing that Lancaster has the cure to his problems.

The Master is a 144-minute art-house film with a peculiar atmosphere. The 1950s-style music has been adjusted, weirdly, yet aptly, to make one feel uncomfortable in almost every scene as we explore the nature of this bizarre cult through Freddie’s eyes.

One watches with bewilderment as The Cause’s followers lap up Lancaster Dodd’s (bonkers) ideology, as well as their aggressive reactions to those who dare to question any aspect of the dogma, even if it is illogical and contradictory. Moreover, one sees the 1984-style, brainwashing techniques that some cults adopt not only to allow people to join the movement, but to ensure that they are ‘committed’ to the cause.

Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) giving one of his fantastic, if crazy, speeches about how one is connected to previous and future existences.

The alarming craziness of The Cause’s ideology makes up for the slowness of The Master and the lack of activity in the plot. The quality of the acting does the same. Joaquin Phoenix delivers a master-class performance as someone suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and alcoholism (paint-thinner and lighter fluid included). He always looks exhausted, distressed, and like he’s about to blow a fuse. Additionally, his speech is consistently slurred, entailing that viewers will believe that Freddie is on the verge of a psychotic breakdown.

Whilst Phoenix is the stand-out performer in the film, the rest of the cast do their roles with equal capability, even if their ones are less challenging. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays exceptionally plausibly as the captivating, yet mad and flawed leader of the cult. Hoffman’s aura and charisma, as Lancaster Dodd, indicates why so many people in 1950s America were drawn to (the self-declared human-deity) L. Ron Hubbard. In addition, Dodd’s magnetic personality hints at how Hubbard managed to found the Church of Scientology and accrue millions of dollars from his followers. That all of this can be encompassed in one performance is testament to Hoffman’s acting skills.

Phoenix and Hoffman dominate The Master, thereby leaving little room for the rest of the cast to showcase their abilities. Nevertheless, Amy Adams plays very well as Lancaster’s wife, whose devotion to the movement is scarily absolute; similar things can be said for Ambyr Childers, who plays as Lancaster’s daughter, and who spends much of the time she is on screen teasing Freddie; and Jesse Plemons does a decent enough job as Lancaster’s son, who ultimately knows that his father is a phoney making it all up as he goes along.

Peggy Dodd (Amy Adams), Lancaster’s wife, appeaing to her husband to do something about Freddie due to his drinking problems.

Much praise should rightly go to the cast. But director Paul Thomas Anderson should also get credit for making The Master look like one is reliving 1950s America. The clothes, the hair-styles and the music all seem to perfectly fit into place. Furthermore, there is no mention of the term ‘Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder’ in the movie. This is because the term did not exist in those days. Still, it would have been easy for Anderson (even if it would have been patronising on the audience) to have had someone in the film state the obvious and make a factual error. After-all, in Gladiator Ridley Scott made Lucilla, the sister of Emperor Commodus, played coincidentally by Phoenix, outlive her brother when in fact she predeceased her brother; and in the 2009 Dorian Gray, Oliver Parker inserted the Suffragettes into the narrative, even though when Oscar Wilde wrote the book in 1890 the Suffragettes had yet to be formed. Anderson, therefore, should be complimented for not falling into such a trap.

All-in-all, The Master is a brilliant, but strange movie. The film might be slow, long and devoid of a linear plot. However, with superb acting and analogies to real-life cults, like Scientology, one is likely to be mesmerised whilst watching the movie from the point of view of the messed-up Freddie. Freddie might have ostensibly little in common with the likes of Tom Cruise and John Travolta but, through Freddie, The Master can give one an understanding for the sorts of people who join cults.

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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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