Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Mission: Impossible II (2000)

Enough with the slo-motion!

Director John Woo quickly wore out my patience with his repeated - and, boy, do I mean repeated, use of slo-motion in this second effort in the Mission: Impossible franchise. Beware this film.

To Woo, I say this, "Arrrggghhh!" I feel a little better now.

Agent (is that what you call him?) Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has his vacation interrupted by pressing business. Why can't a guy climb an impossible rock face with his bare hands without being left alone? Sheesh.

Work in an Australian laboratory has spawned a deadly contagion. Hunt can pick two agents of his choice to work with, but he must recruit Nyah Nordoff-Hall (Thandie Newton). She's the former paramour of bad guy Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott). Her participation can buy entry into Ambrose's heavily fortified base with a great ocean view. Hunt has to woo Nordoff-Hall, a very efficient cat burglar with no conscience, first.

An early car chase between Hunt and Nordoff-Hall is a prime example of this slo-mo silliness. The lady's souped-up vehicle is at risk of going over a cliff. Yet, as her car spins out of control, she and Hunt lock meaningful eyes with each other. Yeah, right.

Ambrose is a great villain. His chief henchman, Hugh Stamp (Richard Roxburgh), is a great No. 2. No problem here, even if the threats to digits has been done before more effectively.

But, to quote American bluesman B.B. King, the thrill is gone in this second film. Hunt's efforts to destroy the bad bug has its moments, but it's almost a replay of one of the best scenes in the first Mission: Impossible. Enter target area from above, avoid capture, and get out within a certain time frame.

The final chase scene, which viewers should be able to see coming based on how villains typically square off with heroes at a movie's end, is ludicrous. What's the deal with Hunt's eye and impending death anyway? The jousting scene with two motorcycles gets marks for creativity, but Hunt riding side saddle on his bike at a high speed, with his shoes skimming along the roadway? Come on! His Hush Puppies would be smoking if not ripped off, unless his footwear is also especially crafted in a lab for government agents.

While the action scenes didn't do much for me, Mission: Impossible II does offer the occasional zinger of dialogue. "You whacked out Russian gypsy" gets my vote for best insult. Hunt's "Damn, you're beautiful," to Nordoff-Hall as they admire each other in bed the morning after is perhaps best not repeated by male movie-goers to their significant others. Ambrose, who scores points as a pretty nasty doer of evil, gets to order his henchman to "Run that bastard (Hunt) down."
Mission: Impossible II doesn't do much as a sequel. What a disappointment.

RATING: 4/10

FUN FACTS: William Mapother made his film debut in Born on the Fourth of July in 1989. The star? Tom Cruise. Northern Ontario residents may be interested to know Mapother also appeared in Edwin Boyd, shot in Sault Ste. Marie.

Thandie Newton played Condoleeza Rice in W.

I'm pretty sure Scott was a little nicer in ever after: a cinderella story

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

Talk about cinematic deja vu.

Frank Capra borrows the same template for mr. smith goes to washington that he used with Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.

Take a good man from a small town, bring him to the big city, have the establishment laugh at him and then threaten his reputation with a perceived scandal.

I'm not complaining. I think both films are great. They were both released during the Great Depression. I'd imagine the regular Joe could use a healthy dose of optimism on the silver screen to get by during those tough times.

Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper) is quite content living in a small town writing poetry for postcards. His life takes a dramatic turn when his rich uncle dies, leaving him an estate of $20 million. This is 1936 folks. Multiply that number a few times to get a sense of what that cash would be worth in 2013. $200 million? $400 million? Lawyers package him up for New York City and his new home - a huge mansion. "Gosh, I've got a lot of friends," he notes before he leaves town by train. Residents of Mandrake Falls are happy for him. Rather than applauding his success, those in the Big Apple are ready for a handout or slap Deeds around.

The tremendous wealth doesn't put dollar signs in Deeds' eyes. But plenty of other people are seeing green. Deeds is seen as an easy mark. The board of an opera company expect him to cut a cheque to wash away a sea of red ink. Established poets invite him to their table to ridicule him. Newspapers are desperate for copy on the new millionaire in the Big Apple. Babe Bennett (Jean Arthur) gets a promise of a month's paid vacation from editor MacWade (George Bancroft) if she can get Deeds' story. She captivates Deeds, a bachelor, then mocks him in a series of stories where he's dubbed The Cinderella Man.

Deeds wants to return home and escape all the scammers and ridicule that surround him. It takes an appeal from a down-and-out farmer (John Wray) for Deeds to consider how he can help others with his cash. That appeal is a little too sappy for this viewer, but that's a brief beef. Greedy lawyer John Cedar (Douglas Dumbrille) recruits another relative of the deceased and comes up with a plan to get the piles of cash from Deeds.

Cooper, in one of his first classic screen roles, is just right as the slow-talking, quick-thinking Deeds. Here's a man who can spot a con (save Babe's scoops) and is more concerned about finding love than driving around in a big car. Betrayals hurt, especially when he learns what Babe did.

Lionel Stander is well cast as Cornelius Cobb, the public relations guy who is supposed to keep Deeds out of trouble. "Bull's what I've been selling all my life," he notes at one point. Great line.

Jean Arthur is a dream - a beauty with brains who falls for Deeds and is haunted by how her words are used to persecute Deeds.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is funny, romantic and optimistic effort from one of Hollywood's greatest directors. Capra won an Oscar for this 1936 effort. The film earned four other Oscar nominations including best actor and picture.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Gino Corrado appears as a strolling violinist in Mr. Deeds. He had many bit parts in his career, added up to an impressive 394 credits. Corrado's resume included Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, Citizen Kane and Mr. Smith Goes to Washingon.

John Wray was Himmelstoss in the original All Quiet on the Western Front.

George Bennett appeared in John Ford's classic western, Stagecoach, in 1939.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Mission: Impossible (1996)

Tom Cruise, I still believed in you.

You took plenty of heat after that couch jumping incident with Oprah Winfrey in 2006. If memory serves, that incident hurt box office traffic to Mission: Impossible III. I went and thought the film was very well done. Tom, people shouldn't watch so much TV. Your detractors missed out on a fine effort.

Now it's seven years later and I'm finally watching the first installment of this big screen take on the classic television show. That program offered 143 episodes between 1967 and 1973. It returned for a second, shorter run between 1988 and 1990.

Funny thing is, some of Cruise's behaviour early Mission: Impossible reminds me of why eyebrows were raised for his activities on the small screen. He strikes me as unconvincing in some key moments. There's no chemistry between him and his fellow government agents before they start a mission. These are folks who regularly defy death together? They should be pretty tight. I didn't buy their banter. Cruise does settle down as this 1996 effort from director Brian De Palma continues. Thank goodness.

The assignment is straightforward. Alexander Golitsyn (Marcel Ivres) is accused of stealing American government secrets about its spies in eastern Europe. Those agents will be sought out and killed if their information ends up in the wrong hands. Under the leadership of Jim Phelps (Jon Voight), Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his team are to nab Golitsyn and protect American lives. But it's Hunt and his cronies who are being hunted. Someone has double-crossed them.

American government bigwig Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny) figures it's Hunt who has gone rogue in return for cash to support his family back home. Hunt's not about to be framed for something he says he didn't do. He goes underground to seek out the interested buyer in the spy secrets. Enter computer hacking guru Luther Stickers (Ving Rhames) and Franz Krieger (Jean Reno). Sorry, I missed what Franz does best. Reno doesn't get to do a whole lot in this film.

The trio team up for Mission: Impossible's best scene. They slip into CIA headquarters to steal crucial information. Their targeted computer is watched over by heavy security and one analyst, Rolf Saxon. There's real tension here because of the limited time available to get the information and potential threats that will find them identified. Hollywood, take note. A pulsating soundtrack, special effects and high speed chases don't often equal great cinema. This caper sequence is a welcome relief to what's usually offered moviegoers for entertainment.

Hunt meets up with a shady lady (Vanessa Redgrave). She is connected to a Max, a chap from the Czech who wants the names of those spies. Redgrave's character, for all her evil, sure seems to get giddy around Hunt. Behave yourself, woman. Focus on being bad.

I wish I could have felt Robert Towne's magic in this film's script. Here's an American talent who won an Oscar for 1974's Chinatown. But there's little that's unique about his work here. If audiences want action and suspense, they'll find it with the previously described CIA sequence and a fine finale involving a high-speed train, helicopter and the Chunnel. But don't expect a smart script that'll offer something new to adventure fans.

RATING: 7.5/10

FUN FACTS: Alexander Golitsyn appeared in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.

Dale Dyes often plays military characters (band of brothers, JFK, Born on the Fourth of July, Casualties of War), but not here.

Jon Voight did a fine job as baddie Jonas Hodges in season seven of TV's 24. He also appeared as Blessed Pope John Paul II in the 2005 television film, Pope John Paul II.

Oh, Canada. Henry Czerny is a Toronto native.

Mission: Impossible received a Razzie nomination for worst film to gross more than $100 million. twister won. I'm surprised. The Razzie should have gone to Independence Day. That was a terrible movie, one of the worst I've ever seen, and made way too much cash.