Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to skip all of the potential Oscar-caliber fare out there and go for some straight-up sheer entertainment.  With Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the bar for exciting megawatt blockbuster couldn’t be set any higher—literally.

Tom Cruise returns to his globetrotting ways as IMF super-spy Ethan Hunt, on the run with three other fugitive agents after a bombing at the Kremlin building has the team framed as terrorists, and causes intense friction between the U.S. and Russia.  The President initiates Ghost Protocol to shut down the entire IMF Agency.  Only Hunt and his team can stop the real terrorist, Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist), an extremist bent on worldwide nuclear destruction.

From the film’s opening, the excitement kicks off and rarely lets up, delivering relenting pulse-pounding action sequences.  This is Cruise’s most accomplished action film to date, and that’s saying something.  The man, regardless of his tarnished off-screen persona, is one heck of a performer.  If this fourth installment of the M:I franchise doesn’t reignite his star power, I don’t know what will.  At nearly 50-years-old, Cruise delivers a physical performance that is often stunning.  Bruised and tossed around the screen, the man flies around this film like a winged insect—running, kicking, punching, ascending, flipping, falling, flailing, you name it.  The film could have been titled Run Tommy Run.

And what about those impressive action sequences?  This is a wall-to-wall assault of a movie, but the action never becomes tedious or dull.  It totally and completely serves the story, keeping the plot in a constant motion, and invigorating this franchise with a heap of fresh and interesting possibilities.  Credit Brad Bird, a former Pixar director of The Incredibles and Ratatouille, for making a live-action cartoon that never once feels cartoonish.  The picture is simultaneously gritty and relaxed.  Bird finds just the right tone for his movie, returning the series to a team-oriented picture rather than just another Tom Cruise vehicle.

Actors Paula Patton, Jeremy Renner, and the comedic Simon Pegg round out the team quite nicely.  Everyone plays a crucial role to the events of the film.  I was not at all surprised to find this fresh change.  Cruise has consistently made every Mission: Impossible film entirely unique and different, utilizing a new director for each installment, for better or worse.  Brian De Palma delivered a twisty plot with the first mission.  John Woo excelled with balletic action sequences that took precedence over the storyline in M:I-2.  J.J. Abrams delved into a personal quest for Ethan Hunt against a cutthroat adversary in the third outing.  For Ghost Protocol, Brad Bird seeks to tip the scales for extreme blockbuster entertainment, gaining top-dollar out of every shot, and reinvigorating the team spirit of the franchise.  Even with a villain in Hendricks that seems more like an afterthought than a real threat, unlike Philip Seymour Hoffman’s menace from the 2006 film, M:I-4 still fires on all cylinders because Bird keeps the threat immediate rather than looming.

I was treated to this film in IMAX format.  30 minutes of the film was shot natively in IMAX.  The towering picture for certain sequences could described as none other than absolutely stunning.  The sequence featuring Cruise ascending the Burj Khalifa tower using questionable suction gloves is a scene that will be talked about for a long time.  Experiencing it in IMAX added to the intensity and vertigo.  Rather unbelievably, the scene was apparently filmed on the actual tower with Cruise actually dangling from it 130-some stories above ground.  How will another sequel top this?  I don’t know.  I’m calling mission impossible on that one.

As for this franchise, it’s reached an incredible high with Bird at the helm.  The series has never been better.  Action movies in general have rarely been better.  And that is no easy feat, as this somewhat underrated series has consistently delivered the goods over the last 15 years.  Lackluster villain complaint aside, this Mission is probably the most entertaining film all of 2011 has to offer, and you’d be crazier than Tom Cruise to miss it.

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Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire

Here is the toughest movie to sit through all year, and oddly enough it’s not the lowest of the Hollywood dreck, it’s a film depicting some of the harshest human reality.  Lee Daniels directs “Precious: Based on a Novel By Sapphire.”  Forget the ridiculous subtitle, this is a movie meant as a message for victims of abuse (based on a novel I haven’t read), not for gloss, glamor or any of the numerous awards attention its landed.

Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe plays Precious, an overweight, illiterate sixteen year-old African-American middle schooler who is pregnant with her second child of her own father’s after being raped.  She sits in class without saying a word or even looking others in the eye.  She goes home to a rundown apartment in Harlem only to endure the physical and mental abuse of her bitter and angry mother (Mo’Nique) who blames her for stealing away her boyfriend.  Precious is convinced that she is wasted space–stupid, ugly, and will never find anyone that cares for her.  That is until she is referred to a special school where a teacher (Paula Patton) instructs her how to read and write, and strives to prove to her that she is valuable.

While it may sound like the Lifetime movie of the week, these dramas rarely strive for honesty like “Precious” does.  This movie depicts violence, rape, and abuse as real  and as confusing as it is to our main character.  Much of this is hard to watch, as it should be.  But Lee Daniels isn’t sugarcoating anything, and he’s also not exploiting his topic.  The four actresses in this movie help keep things in check.  Sidbe is heartbreaking.  Mo’Nique is completely absorbed in her ruthless character.  Paula Patton holds her own in the cliche ‘inspirational teacher’ role, Ms. Rain, a role that lends itself more gravity than I would have anticipated.  Perhaps the oddest choice among the four is Mariah Carey (in a role you absolutely won’t recognize her in, because I sure didn’t).  She plays a social worker having nearly as much invested in Precious as Ms. Rain.  Together these actresses are an unstoppable force in a film only hindered by music video type sequences that Precious envisions to take herself out of her tormented life.  Sadly, they take the audience out of the drama once in a while.  But otherwise, this movie sticks to its guns.  “Precious” looks for the very small twinkle of light at the end of a very dark tunnel, and eventually it gets there, but it’s a rough road.

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