Mission Impossible : Ghost Protocol

Nobody could understand what Tom Cruise was doing with this production of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Why take a monotonous story line and recycle the cliche on sequel number four since the 60s TV series first hit the big screen in 1996. The concern should have had a glimmer of hope when JJ Abrams came on side with the Bad Robot team. But how was this going to work? Lead in with a dramatic rescue, add in some betrayal and stage a comeback from against impossible odds. Isn't that the standard script for the Mission Impossible franchise? Right but also wrong! This movie has resurrected the spy team model with a superbly packaged holiday blockbuster directed by Mr Incredible, Brad Bird.
So how do you jump start a dead battery in a stalled franchise? Positioning the opening scene in Budapest gives you that cold war feel to set the tone. Then prime member of the IMF team, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) reopens his account on the franchise with a well planned extract from prison with a Russian tagging along for the ride. Its a superb opening and the rescuers are introduced as agents Benji (Simon Pegg) with his Bachelor's degree in Gadegtry and Jane (Paula Patton) as the femme fatale. Quickly we're into the story picking up the threads from Hunt's background and meshing that with a back story of where Pegg and Patton have come from in order to make the opening rescue. It's one of those cliche phrases but when Cruise then says "Light the fuse" to kick things into gear with the opening credits you have no idea how big a payload this movie will detonate.
Without giving the highlights of the game away we find that the IMF team become isolated to face the world alone when they are framed for an unprovoked attack on Russian soil. With no one at their back the President disavows any knowledge of the IMF team and the hunt for redemption begins. The trail leads a global chase but the highlight of the movie comes when Dubai is the centre of engagement. East meets west when a strategic exchange brings the world's tallest building with all its shining glass majesty right into the foreground of the stark desert backdrop. At this point anyone who can see MI4 in an IMAX theatre should make it a priority for the jaw dropping intensity of Cruise doing his glass climbing gig at 130 stories above the sand-pit.
The majesty of the shots particularly in one chase sequence aren't over-awed by CGi adding to scenes that draw you into the tension of the chase. Sure there is some cliche routines with an evil genius five cans short of a six pack but that's the game. I couldn't believe that the plot line could have such an old basis in spydom movies but this script takes the old fish and works some magic to deliver it as fresh caviar  Add some superb gadgetry, a concept BMW sports car with touchscreen windscreen and a few throw backs to previous Mission Impossible stunts and you will feel both comfortable and on edge in the same seat.
Simon Pegg has found his comedic balance with the right pinch of levity in the film and bounces well against the staunch characters played by Cruise and Jeremy Renner's Brandt. For anyone who's seen the trailers you're wondering who you can trust in the cast and I'm not about to give away secrets on the tension between Cruise and Renner. Lets just say that MI4 needs team players and that's what keeps everyone on their toes asking the question of not only the enemy but you know that constantly evaluating loyalties is what will keep a good agent alive.
The cast of MI4 is well supported in key areas. For those who were disturbed by the host of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in Slumdog Millionaire then watch for Anil Kapoor in this one. Léa Seydoux who you may remember as the love interest of Prince John in Russell Crowe's Robin Hood plays the walk-in assassin. Josh Holloway from LOST makes an appearance to set the motivation for Paula Patton's lovers revenge while cameos from Tom Wilkinson and Ving Rhames add to the round out a superb ensemble cast.
So why was it so good when sequels traditionally are so bad? Why did my friend who came with me say he was gripping the hand rail and hadn't felt on edge like this before in a movie? Why did the recipe work this time when the same ingredients had produced average results previously? In short it comes down to creativity and a free licence. The genius of Cruise, Abrams and Bird have reinvented the model by taking calculated risks. They played to the Mission Impossible franchise strengths, didn't shy away from cliche and added some new style and edge where the old model was worn. Add to that a cast that connected on screen and you have the prime x-factor ingredient for a movie; it was believable. You wanted the IMF team to survive, protect and save the world one more time.
Its worth seeing again!
4.5 out 5 on the popcorn Richter scale.

Movie Review: Puss in Boots

Recipe for removing stress:
Take a weekend morning and head to the St. Lukes Vmax cinema to relax watching Puss n Boots 3D with your wife and two children in a theatre full of parents and primary age kids. This was the result I came away with after sitting through the preview of the latest offering from the team who brought us the Shrek franchise.

Now that reference to the green ogre is where it ends. This movie stands alone as a backstory to the lovable rogue we have come to know again through Shrek’s introduction. Antonio Banderas returns to voice the feline Casanova and captures the humour and charisma of this sword wielding kitty. The Spanish accent proves they are one up on the French when it comes to the sound of love. This was a true cinema experience where the world fell away and you were able to enjoy a world where cat’s dance, fight and romance while a talking egg can roll your eyes.

The new storyline is ignited by characters like Salma Hayek’s Kitty Softpaws who provides both the love interest and the damsel in distress. Even director Guillermo del Toro makes a cameo as the Commandante. Zach Galifianakis fresh out of Hangover 2 and Due Date gives Humpty Dumpty a fresh approach with some eggcellent vocal talent. OK, I did it once and I apologise. No pun intended it was an eggception! But two of the ‘way out’ characters are how the movie interprets Jack and Jill the nursery rhyme favourites. In this setting Jack and Jill come across as country bumpkin trolls rather than the cute brother and sister who went to fetch a pale of water. The roles are perfectly voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris as they drive their stagecoach tank pulled by seven red-eyed hogs through the dusty sunsets and cow poke trails.

The movie itself has a great storyline which has enough happening to keep the adults guessing and the kids wondering. While we may traditionally know Puss in Boots as an Englishman’s tale of a cat in London this movie works the Spanish angle in order to Americanise the classic with a set that could have been 18th century California or down Mexico way. Along the way the writer allows us to experience betrayal and forgiveness in order to prove what real friendship is all about. We see each of the main characters come to terms with the fact that their past doesn’t define their future and tomorrows choices start with today’s decisions.

Director Chris Miller has moved into the commanders chair well and does a superb job on this production as well as throwing in a few voices like Little Boy Blue. It’s a big move from being a voice over artist however he obviously has learned his craft well since directing of Shrek the Third as this is a step up. The influence of New Zealander Andrew Adamson continues to feature in his capacity as Executive Producer.

This movie was probably the best quality 3D animation I have seen and with a 130 million dollar budget it obviously used all the right toys. Lighting is superb and the use of 3D effects in line with the story creates just the right ride with the occasional roller coaster loop. The clarity of detail in the production was both beautiful and impacting. What you take away when the special effects end though is a story and the characters in Puss in Boots live on for another adventure. From my first Toy Story experience in 1995 to this production we have come a long way in animated story telling and I’m excited where we are heading.

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