Friday, December 23, 2011

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

As an instantaneous fan of almost everything that Tom Cruise touches (except the horrible ‘Knight and Day’), it didn’t take much effort to get me terribly excited for the release of the latest Mission Impossible film. What I was expecting was thrilling action sequences, dazzling set pieces and a few cheesy action one-liners – I got all of this, with a little touch of ‘awesome’ added that sweetens this fantastic popcorn spectacle even further!

Of course, Tom Cruise is back in full form, as he plays the enigmatic Ethan Hunt in an adventure that feels quite personal, but more than accessible enough for those new to the franchise to enjoy. Joining him is an all-star cast of Simon Pegg (Paul, Hot Fuzz, MI 3), Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Avengers, The Town) and the beautiful Paula Patton (Deja Vu, Hitch, Mirrors). It’s an effective mix of characters that helps to give the film some well needed light moments and a true sense of camaraderie that builds as the team gets closer to accomplishing their goal. Seeing them work together feels surprisingly honest and infectious – You’ll most likely want to start your own crime fighting espionage team before the end of the movie (I don’t however recommend this...).

But forget about the actors – The true star here is director Brad Bird, best known for this work on critically acclaimed animations like Ratatouille, The Incredibles and the Iron Giant. This very unlikely choice of director might seem like cinematic suicide, but Bird proves that his talents are very much transferrable to seemingly any genre he tackles.

And his talents are very clearly displayed in Ghost Protocol, as audience members can indulge in a gloriously extreme sense of tension that leads to more than a few ‘edge of your seat’ moments. Bird manages a striking sense of urgency during action sequences that I haven’t come across in a while. At times, it really feels like you’re watching a suspense thriller, cleverly masquerading as a Hollywood action blockbuster.  Bird’s fresh approach pays off in spades, as he effectively balances all of the suspense with ‘to-the-point’ scenes of tactical mission planning and a few verbal confrontations, resulting in a generous runtime of over 2 hours.

“At times, it really feels like you’re watching a suspense thriller, cleverly masquerading as a Hollywood action blockbuster."

Don’t be fooled however – At its heart, Ghost Protocol is an action flick, which means it behaves as one for most of the time: Dialogue is mostly cheesy (forgivably so) & minimalistic and action sequences are loud and a bit over the top, even though they come across as quite realistic when compared to other entries in the series.

Add to the mix some fantastic sound editing, a familiar & fitting soundtrack and some splendid set pieces and you have an action extravaganza that ticks all the right boxes for a film of the genre. With the right expectations and an adequate supply of refreshments, you’re sure to enjoy and appreciate Bird’s take on Ethan Hunt’s impossible legacy.

The Hoody-look works well as both a practical and stylish number for Ethan in this particular scene.
Highlight: There’s a scene that involves a steep climb up a building that is so suspenseful that I might need finger-nail replacement surgery because of it. A great testament to Bird’s skill.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Puss in Boots (3D)

Spin-offs are a risky affair which can either pay off in spades or lead to an annoying mob of disgruntled movie franchise fans. The answers to important questions like “How similar do we keep the spin-off?”, “How much of the original cast should return?” and so forth always has a huge impact on the new venture’s success. In the case of ‘Puss in Boots’, director Chris Miller (Shrek 4, Shrek 3, Shrek 2) seems to have had all the right answers, as his latest addition to the Shrek legacy is just as funny, enchanting and moving as the best of the franchise.

The decision to let only one of the main cast members return for this outing might seem like cinematic suicide, but fans will be pleased to hear that their favourite feline hero (played by Antonia Banderas) more than fills up his over-sized boots. Joining him is Salma Hayek (Grown-ups, After the sunset, Frida) as ‘Kitty Softpaws’, a sexy feline seductress that has more than a few cards to play and Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover, Due Date, Up in the Air) as the very yolky ‘Humpy Dumpty’ – Add to this list Amy Sedaris and Billy Bob Thornton as the notorious ‘Jack & Jill’ and you’ve got enough star appeal for three additional full-length follow-ups.

"... enough star appeal for three additional full-length follow-ups."

 The cast successfully balances a powerful combination of hilarious comedy and moving emotional developments, resulting in a film that will have you crying one moment from uncontrollable bursts of laughter and the next from deeply touching displays of emotion.  Add to the mix an undeniable sense of charm by means of an impressive visual style and you have a movie that will surely delight both young and old.

Miller’s latest also benefits from the same sense of ‘wow’ as the Shrek films, making it clear that the franchise still has a lot to kick left in it. Add to this the success of Puss in Boots at the box office and raving reviews from critics and you’ll soon realise that another spin-off is almost guaranteed...  I can’t wait!

Cute, but deadly.
Highlight: Humpty Dumpty is quite the little criminal mastermind and a flashback later in the movie surprised me with one of the funniest film moments I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing in a theatre.Rating: Meerkat Tails

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tower Heist

There are a few things in life that I'm quite vocal about and one of those things on the top of this list is my extreme disgust for Eddie Murphy and basically all movies he has ever had a role in, with Shrek as a specific exception. This should explain why I wasn't too excited when I saw Eddie Murphy next to Ben Stiller on the movie poster of Tower Heist. Nonetheless, I put my Murphy judgements aside for 90 minutes and gave this one a proper chance.

To be quite honest, it was a movie risk I'm happy I took, as Tower Heist treats its audience to a fresh take on the heist movie archetype, instilling it with charm, humour and well, Ben Stiller, playing the role of lead instigator quite marvellously, as director Brett Ratner (Rush Hour 3, X-Men: The last stand, Red Dragon) manages to tap into Stiller's best qualities as both a serious and comedic heavyweight. Looking at Ratner’s film credits, the film’s tight balance between serious and funny shouldn’t come as much of a surprise...

Joining Stiller is a strong cast helping to fill the runtime with continuous laughter that includes Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick, Alan Alda, Judd Hirsch and Gabourney Sidibe, best known for her standout role in the movie Precious. What makes the cast work in a big way is the sheer unexpectedness of the group, with actors like Casey Affleck and Gabourney Sidibe as very unlikely options for a comedy of any breed. And then of course there’s Eddie Murphy that for the first time in a decade plays a realistic character that cannot speak to animals or is so extremely fat that it’s just sad, not funny. It’s this risky mix of old comedic heavyweights and brand new players to the game of comedy that makes the film much more entertaining than it probably should be.

“And then of course there’s Eddie Murphy that for the first time in a decade plays a realistic character that cannot speak to animals or is so extremely fat that it’s just sad, not funny.”

The plot is modern, but nothing really groundbreaking. I had a few issues with the pacing, with certain scenes seeming unusually long and others that you wish could have been drawn out a bit more. Furthermore, the movie does take quite a while to get going, with the really funny moments only happening halfway through adventure. But in the greater scheme of things, this is a small blemish on a film that is surprisingly watchable and enjoyable.

An unlikely, but funny pair. Great return to form for Murphy, more of the same from Stiller.

Highlight: Gabourney Sidibe’s role in The Heist is a far cry from what we’re used to, which results in almost every scene with her in being totally ridiculous and hilarious. Singling out one feels like a crime, but there’s one scene involving a cake and a security guard that is sure to result in more than just a giggle or two.