MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 11 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Action and Violence, and brief partial Nudity

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Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie

Written by: Christopher McQuarrie

(based on the TV series MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE by Bruce Geller)

Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Alec Baldwin, Simon McBurney & Zhang Jingchu

Before June of this year, I had never seen a single MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie. I didn’t grow up watching the series, so I didn’t have any nostalgia for it. Watching those four movies for the first time, I saw the series like this: MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE is big dumb fun, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 tries too hard to be cool, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III has the best villain of the series, and GHOST PROTOCOL is a better-than-expected fourth installment. All my preparation of watching those films was for ROGUE NATION (the fifth film in the franchise) and I’m so glad I got into this series at all, because MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION is one of the best films to hit the big screen this summer!

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IMF agent Ethan Hunt is convinced that there’s a threat out there far bigger than any he’s ever faced before. This enemy is a group known as The Syndicate. Though they only serve as tall-tales for the C.I.A. and the rest of IMF, Ethan discovers that the Syndicate is very real and have it out for him. They are an anti-IMF. They assassinate world leaders and collapse foreign economies. It’s a mastermind criminal group made to break societies. With IMF torn down by the C.I.A., only Ethan and a handful of former IMF agents (as well as a questionable femme fatale) have any hope of stopping this terrorist organization from completing their master plan.

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The plots in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE franchise range from clichéd and stupid (a deadly virus being used by a terrorist, a madman armed with some nukes) to complicated and clever (a weapons dealer enacting revenge on an IMF agent). Having sat through all four films recently, I find ROGUE NATION’s plot to be the most complex story yet in the series. This feels like the most mature and adult MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie yet. It’s a result of the series slowly evolving over the later sequels. Tight editing and strong momentum make the film seem neat and compact in its 131-minute running time.

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It should come as no surprise that Tom Cruise slips right back into the role of Ethan Hunt with ease. As an action hero, there’s no denying that Cruise can still carry a blockbuster squarely on his shoulders. However, ROGUE NATION also lends bigger roles to the side characters this time around. Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames and Jeremy Renner all have big parts to play. It was nice seeing them used as equal members of a team and not merely as means to an end. Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson (coming off last summer’s awful HERCULES) plays one of the most interesting female characters in this franchise. You’re never fully certain which side she’s on, but her mere presence forces you to like her either way. While Philip Seymour Hoffman remains a vicious baddie who cannot be topped, Sean Harris plays my second-favorite villain in the series. He’s evil and calculating, but there’s also an understandable motivation behind his actions (explained as the film goes along). He was perfect in this role and can’t wait to see what he takes on next.

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Of course, what’s a MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie without insane action scenes. Opening with an airplane stunt (that’s been posted in every piece of marketing for this film), ROGUE NATION packs a ton of adrenaline-pumping excitement into a story that knows where to place these crazy scenes. The gun fights and car chases don’t feel pointless or forced in the slightest. Instead, they weave right into the complex plot. One lengthy sequence set at an opera house was a special highlight for me. I was constantly on the edge of my seat through the whole film though. Every scene is riveting for one reason or another.

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It’s crazy how the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE franchise seems to have come full circle and become the highest possible version of popcorn entertainment. However, this fifth film is far from big and dumb. Instead, it’s the most mature, complicated entry yet and made all the better for it. It was originally rumored that this fifth entry would be the final MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie and I can say that the franchise would have gone out on its highest note. However, if the sixth film (now in production) is anywhere near as accomplished and hugely entertaining as this fifth entry, bring it on! I have nothing negative to say about this summer blockbuster. I loved every second of ROGUE NATION!

Grade: A+

PULP FICTION (1994)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 34 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Graphic Violence and Drug Use, Pervasive Strong Language and some Sexuality

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Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Written by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Maria de Medeiros, Ving Rhames, Eric Stoltz, Rosanna Arquette & Christopher Walken

Coming off of RESERVOIR DOGS, Quentin Tarantino was recognized as a rising talent. This led to Miramax instantly green lighting Tarantino’s next film based solely on his script. So at Cannes 1994, Tarantino’s sophomore effort PULP FICTION premiered to much acclaim, awards and success. Since its release, the crime anthology has cemented itself as a pop culture phenomenon and frequently ranks amongst the best films ever made. Whereas RESERVOIR DOGS had a couple of slight flaws that kept it from perfection, PULP FICTION was the first outright Tarantino masterpiece. This film is simply awesome! Told in a non-linear format of four interlocking crime stories, PULP FICTION is an anthology that was unlike any other at the time. So without further ado, I’ll get to the stories…

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THE DINER (Wraparound): This segment opens and closes the film from two different points of view. A couple (referring to themselves as Honey Bunny and Pumpkin) begin a conversation about mistakes that can be made in robbing banks, gas stations and other locations, only to reveal that they’ve planned an ingenious robbery of a diner. Their plan doesn’t exactly play out the way they intended it to when a mysterious patron steps in. This segment immediately throws the quirky sensibilities of PULP FICTION at the viewer. Despite being not necessarily funny in that the characters are despicable, this story thrives on witty dialogue and little touches. It’s pretty excellent stuff that cuts to credits and then we get…

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VINCENT VEGA AND MARSELLUS WALLACE’S WIFE: Out of all the segments in PULP FICTION, this is the least violent. A hitman, Vince Vega, is instructed to take his boss’s wife out for a date. This is especially nerve-wracking for Vince, because his boss, Marsellus Wallace, is known for being vicious towards people who cross him. In an unexpected turn of events, Vega and Mia Wallace hit it off very well at a 1950’s-themed restaurant. The date gets complicated as things go on, but you can’t help but feel that there’s some real chemistry between Vega (played in a stellar turn by John Travolta) and Mia (a sexy Uma Thurman). It feels nice to see a bit of relaxation and tenderness in a movie that’s so crazy and violent on every other front. This story is far lighter fare than…

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THE GOLD WATCH: Butch is a boxer paid off by Marsellus (yes, the mob boss from the previous story) to take a dive during his final boxing match. However, Butch decides to get greedy and cash in on himself winning the match. Now on the run, Butch realizes that his beloved gold watch (handed down through three generations) is still at his apartment. His journey to retrieve the watch takes him through encounters with very nasty people…and I’m not just talking about gangsters. It seems like this segment gets a bit too dark for some, but I love it. It’s grim and pretty disturbing, but never revels in an unpleasant nature. Things are sick and wrong, but somehow remain fun and entertaining. You know that you’ve done something right when MAD TV and THE SIMPSONS are brilliantly lampooning your material in a way that pays respect to it rather than outright mocks it. Though this story is friggin’ messed up, we get a lighter touch with the final full length story…

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THE BONNIE SITUATION: Vince Vega and his partner, Jules, are assigned to kill a few guys who screwed over Marsellus. The hit is successful, but the pair wind up with an accidental corpse in the backseat of their car in broad daylight. In a desperate attempt to avoid jail, they hide at Jules’s friend’s home and try to clean up. This segment might seem sort of uneventful, but it’s damn near entirely driven by dialogue between the characters. Whether it’s Quentin Tarantino (in a far better cameo than his stint in RESERVOIR DOGS) talking about non-existent signs on his lawn or Harvey Keitel (cast as the charismatic Wolf) teaching the pair of blood-soaked killers how to best cover their tracks. It’s all entertaining to a ridiculously satisfying degree. There’s no real way of describing why, because you’ll fall under its spell as this segment goes on.

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Usually, my anthology reviews have grades for each of the segments and an overall grade for the whole film. There’s no need for that approach in PULP FICTION because each of four interlocking crime stories are A+ worthy. The film’s fun tone and sense of style permeates through all of its segments, even though each can be held up as their own individual stories. Ranging from funny and charming to twisted and darkly hilarious, Quentin Tarantino’s sophomore film is a classic that will hold a strong place in cinema history. I’d tell you to watch it, but you probably already have.

Grade: A+

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL (2011)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 13 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Intense Action and Violence

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Directed by: Brad Bird

Written by: Josh Appelbaum & Andre Nemec

Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Michael Nyqvist, Vladimir Mashkov & Samuli Edelmann

Of all the series I’ve covered for 2015’s summer movie releases, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE was the one that I was least enthused about. I had never seen any of the Tom Cruise blockbusters until about a week ago and (aside from the second film) I’m very glad that I finally took the plunge into the franchise spawned by a 1960’s TV series. The 1996 original is the epitome of big, dumb popcorn entertainment. 2000’s sequel was too concerned over style and weighed down by a bad screenplay to be any fun. 2006’s third installment easily surpassed both films to become an outright great movie. So five years after that second sequel, director Brad Bird delivered MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL. Where does this fourth film sit? It’s somewhere snuggly between the first and the third.

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Ethan Hunt is doing time in a Russian prison, but IMF extracts him for another seemingly impossible task. This time around, Ethan and his team are being sent into the Kremlin to retrieve files on a terrorist known as “Cobalt.” Unfortunately for them, the mission doesn’t run as smoothly as planned (do they ever?) and the Kremlin is bombed by the very terrorist they were looking for. Ethan and his team members make it out alive, but tensions between the USA and Russia have risen to a level where IMF is disbanded. It’s up to Ethan and his small band of former IMF agents to take down Cobalt, prove their innocence, and retrieve nuclear codes before the unthinkable occurs.

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You might notice that plot sounds a bit generic this time around, almost as generic as your typical spy thriller a.k.a. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2. However, it’s all in the execution. Director Brad Bird (who is most famous for his animated work) knows exactly how to pull off a “been there, done that” script in a way that feels fresh. He throws a number of suspenseful scenarios and the most grandiose action to grace a MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie thus far. Though number three is still my favorite for a variety of reasons, the action is definitely most exciting and ridiculously awesome in GHOST PROTOCOL. We get intense chase scenes, fights while the stakes are at the their highest, and Tom Cruise scaling the world’s tallest building with a pair of faulty gloves. That last scene ramps up unbelievable levels of tension and is bound to make those afraid of heights wet their pants. Though the formula of making the action even more over-the-top with each entry can easily backfire, it works well for the fourth MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE.

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As far as the performances go, Tom Cruise is back in true action hero form as Ethan Hunt. Whatever you may think of his personal life, Cruise shines as this memorable agent always facing off against impossible odds. Though previous characters pop up for cameos, Simon Pegg is the only other big name to return from any of the previous films. He serves as the obvious comic relief, but does a damn fine job of it. Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner are new additions to the M:I team, but pull their weight. Renner is especially enjoyable in his role as an analyst turned amateur agent. While the good guys are worth rooting for, the villain is super bland this time around. It seems like the filmmakers knew that they would never be able to top Hoffman’s arms dealer, so they went in an entirely new direction. While I liked the concept of this nuclear extremist (played by Michael Nyqvist of the original GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO), he simply doesn’t have much dialogue or enough screen time. I knew he was a baddie and that’s about all there was to his character. He just seems a little anti-climactic when compared to his competition in the series, even the moronic villain in M:I 2 is slightly more fleshed out in comparison.

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GHOST PROTOCOL stands as the second-best MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie thus far. Though it suffers from clichés and a boring villain, the fourth film in the franchise manages to up the excitement and entertainment through crazy action and solid suspense. If you’re a fan of the first three films (or even just one and three, like myself), then GHOST PROTOCOL should be right up your alley. This leaves me excited for the fifth (and supposedly final) film in the franchise coming on July 31. So far, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE is three for four and those aren’t bad odds.

Grade: B+

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III (2006)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 6 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Frenetic Violence and Menace, Disturbing Images and some Sensuality

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Directed by: J.J. Abrams

Written by: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci & J.J. Abrams

Starring: Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames, Billy Crudup, Michelle Monaghan, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Maggie Q, Simon Pegg, Eddie Marsan & Laurence Fishburne

Despite having never been that interested in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE franchise before this year, the only tidbit of knowledge that I knew about any of the films was that Philip Seymour Hoffman played the villain in the third movie. That alone was enough to make me excited for this to cleanse the palette after the disaster that was MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2. This third installment in the blockbuster franchise is the best that I’ve seen in the series (I will be watching GHOST PROTOCOL soon) thus far. Intense, exciting and smart, this MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE does something that neither of the previous entries did for me. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III actually made me feel like our main character was in constant peril and that the danger might overcome him at any point. I felt the dread, suspense and excitement rush through every single intense sequence, plot twist and action scene. It’s almost unheard of to see a third installment in any series one-up its predecessors, but that’s exactly what MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III does in every way.

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Since the events of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2, Ethan Hunt has retired from IMF missions and found love in his fiancé. He’s drawn back into one last assignment when a former protégé is captured. The rescue mission goes sour and Ethan finds himself hunting for a powerful black-market figure. The villain is Owen Davian, a notorious arms dealer who has pretty much become an invisible man. When Ethan is tipped off about Davian’s latest whereabouts, he sets in motion a complicated plan to kidnap Davian. Unfortunately, not everything in this plan is solid and sound. Things quickly spiral out of control. Soon, Ethan finds himself being specifically targeted by Davian and his fiancé being held hostage in the crosshairs.

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While MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE was a big popcorn-muncher of a movie and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 tried too hard to be stylish and cool, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III easily sports the best script of the first three films. It ups the ante from the very beginning by showing a scene that we can anticipate later on in the movie. While I usually complain about stories starting off in non-linear fashion as a cheap gimmicky approach, this works far better in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III as the scene is an undeniably tense one. It gives us a vulnerable side of Ethan that we’ve never seen before in either of the previous entries, while also showing just how scary Hoffman is as the villain. The former is definitely a big part of what works so well for me about MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III. Adventures can only be so exciting when anyone can correctly predict where everything is heading and there’s no sense that the hero might fail. M:I 3’s script delivers a solid atmosphere of danger that hovers over every moment in which Ethan finds himself outgunned. It’s a nice change of pace for a series that seemed so content to play it safe and by-the-numbers.

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Since the screenplay is rock solid and the high stakes feel like high stakes this time around, the action scenes are extremely exciting. That’s also not to mention that the comic relief actually works, because it’s not overly excessive. Little moments of laughter do ease the tension a bit, but never dominate the scenes. One sequence of Ethan breaking into a heavily guarded building has the best punchline of any of the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movies delivered by Ving Rhames. Aside from stellar script, a nice change of pace, and exciting action, Philip Seymour Hoffman dominates as Davian. He’s a calm, cold, son of a bitch in the role. Exuding a bit of smugness, but more sociopathic tendencies than expected, Hoffman is one villain that you love to hate. He’s scary in how he delivers chilling dialogue in such a matter-of-fact, routine fashion as if the evil deeds he’s committing are really nothing to him…because they aren’t a big deal in his eyes at all. I doubt that we’ll receive another top-notch villain to the same high-caliber degree as Davian in the entire series. He’s that good!

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It’s not often that you can say a third entry in a blockbuster series manages to outdo the first and second installments, but that’s exactly the case with MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III. You can sense that somebody genuinely cared about crafting a solid film as opposed to just throwing out yet another generic sequel. The acting and characters are solid across the board, with Hoffman being the biggest scene-stealer of the bunch. The action is adrenaline-pumping and has actual emotion put behind it. The story is engaging and takes the series in an entirely different direction than simply an unstoppable guy saving the world again. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III improves on its predecessors tenfold and manages to become a great adventure in the process.

Grade: A

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 (2000)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 3 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Violent Action and some Sensuality

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Directed by: John Woo

Written by: Robert Towne

Starring: Tom Cruise, Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton, Ving Rhames, Richard Roxburgh, John Polson & Brendan Gleeson

Seeing as 1996’s MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE was such a big, dumb, action-packed hit among audiences, you’d expect that a sequel (especially one with John Woo as director) would be bigger, dumber and even more action-packed. You would definitely be right on it being dumber, but I’m not sure if the bigger and more action-packed descriptions are entirely correct. It has been noted by many fans that MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 is considered to be the worst in the series. I really hope that’s the case, because I was bored out of my mind whilst watching this supposedly adrenaline-filled ride. This second installment in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE franchise is laughably overstylized, carried by a bland script and feels like a vanity project for Cruise. If this didn’t have Tom Cruise slapped on the front, I could easily see this film starring a washed up Steven Seagal or Christopher Lambert.

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Ever since his little escapade in the first film, Ethan Hunt has been a full-fledged IMF agent. His latest assignment has required him to climb a rocky cliff with his bare hands in order to pick up a specialized pair of exploding sunglasses. After putting on the glasses (in slow motion, of course), Ethan is informed that a deadly virus (known as Chimera) is in the hands of rogue IMF agent Sean Ambrose. Ethan will have to use former thief and Ambrose’s ex-flame Nyah Nordoff-Hall to get close to the rogue IMF agent and his super virus. With the clock ticking and an ever predictable plan unfolding, Ethan begins falling for Hall…all while Ambrose begins to suspect that something might be up.

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In a MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE film, you’d expect crazy excitement right out of the gate, but that’s not the case with MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2. Instead, the first 20 minutes consist of the pre-credits obligatory villain introduction and Tom Cruise wooing the former thief (played by Thandie Newton). Even when we receive a car chase or surveillance scene, they come off as laughable in these early moments. It takes a long while for anything remotely interesting or exciting to happen in this sequel. That’s not to say the film doesn’t have a couple of enjoyable action sequences, but these are rarely the case. With little action to distract from the convoluted plot (in a stark contrast to the first film), the plot holes stick out with glaring stupidity. These include a dumbass villain who seems to foiling his own plan with a series of idiotic decisions. Another unintentionally hilarious aspect comes in a scene where Tom Cruise seems to form an unspoken psychic connection with pigeons and doves (this is still John Woo, after all) to knock out a bunch of random henchmen.

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What makes MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 that much more of a disappointment are the bigger names in the cast. Tom Cruise seems to revel in the camera being on him throughout this entire film. He constantly looks like he’s posing for a magazine cover, even when he’s supposed to be in action scene. It never feels like he’s in any danger whatsoever, even though the first movie also sort of suffered from the same problem. Ving Rhames plays the computer genius who delivers lots of exposition and doesn’t really do much of anything else. Thandie Newton is the typically bland damsel-in-distress/love-interest for Cruise. Anthony Hopkins and Brendan Gleeson also pop up for…some reason. Maybe, they just wanted a quick paycheck (though Gleeson wasn’t nearly as big as he is today). Finally, Dougray Scott is a pathetic villain. He’s just so generic. There wasn’t much to his character other than being interested in superweapons and money, but little in the way of an entertaining delivery or crazed personality.

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While watching MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2, I couldn’t help but get the sense that it seemed like nobody on the set really cared about this sequel…except for Tom Cruise and John Woo. John Woo cared because he wanted to throw explosions, slow motion and doves at the screen. Tom Cruise cared because it gave him an excuse to flash his smile, flip his luscious locks during a would-be climactic fight scene, and do a model pose in every possible frame of film that he could. This is a lackluster sequel that’s just plain bad. Aside from a couple of enjoyable action moments and unintentional hilarity, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 is quite boring. This sequel feels like it’s trying to focus on being way more hip and cool this time around, all while never understanding why the simple crazy thrills in the original worked as well as they did.

Grade: D

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