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Reese Witherspoon panicked at wheel of the car speeds on Los Angeles
freeway with dueling love interests, CIA agents played by Chris Pine
and Tom Hardy. Pine fires off shots at bad guys in SUV, then screams to
Hardy, "I missed you!" Hardy confesses, "I love you, man!" The Bromance
between Pine and Hardy is the endearing deal in "This Means War". Pine
is American player FDR. Hardy is the very British single father Tuck.
So why is a Brit in the CIA? Anyway, Pine is the cool guy, and Hardy is
the solid guy in Director McG's hysterical action packed "This Means
War". This is surprising coming from McG, who must have a real name,
and whose unfortunate claim to fame is the "Charlie's Angels" movies,
and the horrendous "Terminator: Salvation".
Pine and Hardy play in position as cool and solid, and have amazing chemistry which sparks "This Means War". Both are great looking guys, very athletic, and nail their action scenes with style whether leaping through the air shooting villains or leveraging deadly jujitsu moves. In this story CIA agents FDR and Tuck both fall in love with Lauren played by Witherspoon causing a rift in their friendship-- threatening the buddy action picture genre.
Unfortunately, I think Witherspoon is horribly miscast. She does her best as cute and sweet Lauren, who is kind of a nerdy consumer products researcher rebounding from a failed relationship. The consumer researcher part is a unique twist in an otherwise perfunctory and predictable screenplay by Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg, from a story by Marcus Gautesen. I was puzzled that Kinberg, who wrote "Mr. and Mrs. Smith", didn't strengthen the romantic elements or tension. Witherspoon is kind of left in a lurch, because her Lauren is reduced to more or less a plot device.
Pine and Hardy's rugged chemistry salvage this narrative shortcoming punctuating their underlying brotherhood. Tuck (Hardy) pretexts this gentleman's agreement with FDR (Pine) not to have sex with Lauren while both pursue her affections by saying, "You know I would take a bullet for you." Ultimately, there is a weird downside: We really don't care who gets Lauren, as long as FDR and Tuck "kiss and make up". Dowling and Kinberg sufficiently provide the occasional shiny objects. FDR exudes touching vulnerability when he takes Lauren to visit his Nana (amazing Rosemary Harris), who raised him following a past family tragedy. Witherspoon is at her gracious best as Pine confesses, "There are no mistakes." We get insight into Tuck's burden as a single Dad for his son Joe (earnest John Paul Ruttan). His beautiful ex-wife Katie (stunning Abigail Spencer) is still the love of his life. Katie remains unaware of Tuck's CIA life. On a light note, Tuck has a run in with Joe's arrogant mixed martial arts instructor. For those who witnessed Hardy's physical prowess in "Warrior", we kind of know that this will not end well for him. Hardy has a subdued danger and power about himself, and it is nice to see the touching side. Pine is charming and funny, yet possesses a distinct gravitas. Their partnership and contrasting styles enroll us throughout "This Means War".
Director McG deflects the diluted narrative with accelerated action and kinetic sense of humor. His visual style is vibrant, crisp, and clean. The opening action sequence on a luxury high rise in Los Angeles is like a James Bond movie. Elegantly evil Til Schweiger is powerful dealer Heinrich, who along with his brother Jonas (Clint Carleton) double cross an Asian Clan in bloody shoot out. FDR and Tuck on the operation wield their guns, punches and kicks to apprehend Heinrich. The martial arts sequences are cool looking throughout. Tragically, FDR kills Jonas while protecting his bud Tuck. Heinrich flees in a dramatic base jump. Heinrich swears vengeance for his brother. None too pleased with the outcome and damages, CIA Director Collins (stern Angela Bassett) place FDR and Tuck on desk duty in the interim. Idle hands and minds, and on-line dating website inadvertently lead to Lauren.
One of the tangential story elements is Lauren's romance and sex adviser Trish, played by hysterical Chelsea Handler. I am a fan of Handler. However, though she is funny her Trish is one-dimensional. Fortunately, she is the butt of a hilarious joke. FDR and Tuck watch a live surveillance feed of Lauren and Trish. Staring FDR says, "Why is she listening to that old man?" I read some interesting reviews on the stalker vibe of "This Means War". In context these are CIA guys leveraging high tech resources in the name of romance. Rarely, has the Patriot Act been used as a punch line. As long as Pine and Hardy are wrestling at the controls, I'm all for it. "This Means War" is action packed, fun, and really entertaining.
In "I Am Bruce Lee" there is a famous interview where Bruce
distinguishes his philosophy: "Empty your mind. Be formless like
water... If you pour water into a cup, it becomes the cup. If you pour
water into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it
can crash. Be like water, my friend." Bruce eloquently relates Tao Te
Ching. Amazingly, these were the words of Stirling Silliphant ("In the
Heat of the Night") from an episode of "Longstreet" back in the 1970's
starring James Franciscus. Silliphant was a student of Bruce Lee, and
the episode was called "Way of the Intercepting Fist" which many know
is Bruce's creation, Jeet Kune Do. I remember watching Lee in the TV
series. This was before he became the martial arts iconhe was magnetic
and compelling. In the interview Bruce said he got to play himself, not
some character. What struck me was that Bruce Lee was the awesomely
gifted martial artist, who was also an amazing teacher. That is a
rarity. I think had Bruce lived, he would have become the great martial
arts teacher and transformed the distinction martial arts.
Silliphant went on to write the TV series "Kung Fu" from Bruce's original concept. But instead of the casting Chinese Lee as the lead Warner Brothers went with David Carradine. Lee eventually made "Enter the Dragon" for Warner Brothers, he tragically died before the release of the movie. I know this is a lot of history, and Director Pete McCormack brilliantly connects the dots in this refreshing and compelling documentary of Bruce Lee's life and death. There is an undercurrent of racism and fighting the establishment in this story which Bruce lived with. McCormack blends a captivating mix of interviews with celebrity fans, and those close to Bruce. Kobe Bryant is captioned as NBA All-Star/ Martial Artist. I wondered what he trains in. Did not know Ed O'Neil ("Modern Family") was a black belt in Brazilian Jujitsuwhich is awesome. UFC Champion Jon Jones is very cool in his admiration of his hero Lee. However, McCormack goes sideways with some of his guys including skateboarder Paul Rodriguez and some dude from the Black Eyed Peas. Cantankerous Judo expert Gene LeBelle comes across as a weird skeptic of the Bruce Lee prowess, though it turns out Bruce trained with him.
Bruce Lee is an icon and iconoclast. Linda Lee Caldwell, Lee's widow, amazingly tells the story of how Bruce defeated a fighter from China, because Bruce chose to teach Wing Chun which he learned from the legendary Yip Man to anyone, not just Chinese. Linda tells how Lee made the fighter submit within 3 minutes. After the fight Lee lamented that he should have been able to end the fight soonerWing Chun alone was not it. Thus, Bruce began the evolution of Jeet Kune Do-- all styles and no style. His first students Dan Inosanto and Richard Bustillio convey their love and awe for their fallen friend. Bruce Lee transcended race and even martial arts. "I Am Bruce Lee" in its own unique way captures that feeling: Everyone wanted to be Bruce Lee. Bruce taught Steve McQueen, James Coburn, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Linda Lee Caldwell tells how Bruce wished Steve could be more like James and James could be more like Steve. Linda says that Bruce was her strength, but you get that she was his rock. This is particularly evident in the story surrounding Lee's death.
Poignantly, Kobe Bryant talks about the downside of celebrity. Bruce Lee may have been seduced by fame. His friend and "Enter the Dragon" co-star Bob Wall talks about Bruce's phenomenal prowess. But he also talks about Lee having an allergic reaction to medication, and being found in another woman's apartment. Caldwell is gracious in that she has made peace with that, and to this day finds joy in seeing him on screen. Lee's daughter Shannon Lee, also the movie's Producer, fondly remembers her father and the spectacle of the funeral. Bruce was a man with an upside and a downside. Most importantly, he is still loved to this day.
The footage of the Bruce Lee movies reminds us of the icon, who was total genius in his body. He was 5'7" and 135 lb, and so fast and so strong. The clips of his "one-inch punch" are astounding. He was beautiful and immortal. His goddaughter Diana Lee Inosanto says, "He put balls on Chinese men." Provocative. More to the point: Bruce had the perfect body, was charismatic, and sexy. MMA Champion Gina Carano ("Haywire") vehemently agrees. It is interesting that there have not been any crossover Asian stars as compelling as Bruce. Then again, how often does Bruce Lee come along in a lifetime? What landed for me was Linda talking about Bruce's legacy even today. She said she is touched by the fact that Bruce inspired generations to be great. As a kid watching his movies, he inspired me to pursue the martial arts. Now I am a Sensei, and have the opportunity to give something back to others. Bruce made us dare to be great. And that is an amazing legacy.
The stunning Kate Beckinsale is back in skin tight leather spandex and
kicking ass in "Underworld: Awakening". Kate looks amazing, sleek, and
incredibly fit as Vampire Death Dealer Selene. She was not in the last
"Underworld" movie which was an uninspired origins tale. In a shrouded
conspiracy, Selene (Beckinsale) has been frozen in a cryogenic chamber
for 12 years. When we saw her last: She had escaped with her love
Michael, a true hybridboth Vampire and Lycan, i.e. Werewolf. However,
in this near future the humans now hunt down the Vampire and Lycan.
Amazingly, Beckinsale as Selene has emerged as a feminist hero of
sorts. Women in the audience cheered as resurrected Selene snaps off
the elbow of her malevolent captor. Beckinsale is sexy, charismatic,
and all vengeance in "Underworld: Awakenings". She does not take crap
from anyone, and tears through a lot of bad men.
Fortunately, Screenwriters Len Wiseman and John Hlavin shade the touching maternal instincts of hero Selene with convincing Beckinsale. Selene discovers a mysterious hybrid child Eve (innocent and powerful India Eisley). Selene is immersed in the swirling conflict of the renegade Vampire Covenant and the genetically enhanced Lycan threat. She mourns her beloved Michael. She confesses to Eve, "My heart is not cold. It's broken." Wiseman and Hlavin effectively create Selene a cause to fight for with all her mightI would say soul, but she is a Vampire. She finds allies in valiant warrior Vampire David (strong and compassionate Theo James) and unlikely human Sebastian (stalwart Michael Ealy). The real menacing threat is enigmatic Dr. Jacobs (slick Stephen Rea), whose passion for apparent clinical science conceals an intricate conspiracy as well.
Directors Mans Marlin and Bjorn Stein broker a kinetic visual style and manic sense of actionmaking this the most fun "Underworld". They provide a sense of urgency sans a self-important tone. And the action is wild. Beckinsale uses lightning quick jujitsu moves on human and Lycan. She is so cool standing tall in flowing trench coat, firing off rounds of bullets at the bad guys. Beckinsale has become an accomplished action star holding her own. She has the spectacular battle scene taking on a ferocious Lycan with a blade.
Wiseman and Hlavin construct an intriguing premise surrounding the messiah-like hybrid child, and the future of Vampire and Lycan. Unfortunately, they don't play this out to its logical conclusion. This is a little disappointing. The "Underworld" movies have kept the mythology interesting in that they are like "Romeo and Juliet", but with Vampires and Werewolves. Here milking for a sequel may not have been too smart; primarily, because we are all for Beckinsale's Selenewanting to see her mend her broken heart. Granted the insane action and gore are adequate distraction. The conclusion seems rather abrupt, and more a commercial decision. So I guess I will look forward to seeing Beckinsale don the black leather again in the next "Underworld".
"The Grey" is amazing. Not necessarily for what you would think. In
"The Grey" Alaskan oil workers survive a horrendous airplane crash on
route to Anchorage. They are hunted down by ferocious Grey wolves.
According to Liam Neeson's Ottway the Greys' territory covers 300
miles, and the den's kill radius is 30 miles. They are on their turf.
Director and Writer Joe Carnahan's vision is stark and emotionally
haunting. Neeson plays Ottway, who is an expert marksman who kills
wolves threatening Alaskan oil pipeline workers. Neeson embodies a sad
gravitas in Ottway. In the opening scene we get that he is tortured by
dreams of his late wife, beautiful and serene Anne Openshaw. He
composes a letter to her. Ottway may suffer clinical depression which
culminates in an aborted tragic act. Following the visually dramatic
crash, Ottway (Neeson) stares into the eyes of a passenger with
bleeding abdomen, and says, "You are going to die
" He calmly guides
him through this. "The Grey" is about how each of us faces death. "The
Grey" is poignantly profound and sublime.
Carnahan and Ian MacKenzie Jeffers's screenplay based on Jeffers's short story "Ghost Walker" is surprising in narrative and catharsis. Director Carnahan creates the existential arctic wasteland and the paradox of man as prey. Masanobu Takayanagai's cinematography is hauntingseeing the wolves' eyes glowing against the darkness and snow is terrifying and stunning. There is a visceral sense of danger in the icy air that fuels "The Grey". Ottway leads the group to the forest ridge line as a means to their salvation. Frank Grillo is gritty as fierce poser. Dermot Mulroney is inspired as dedicated father Talget. Dallas Roberts is solid support as sensible Hendrick.
Liam Neeson is awesome. "The Grey" is powerful, because of him. As Ottway, he is a compassionate broken hero journeying through redemption. Neeson is so convincing as a man taking action in the face of his own grave fear. Neeson has an amazing scene where Ottway, recalls the poem of his drunk and abusive father, "Into the fray Live and die on this day." Neeson captures the conflicting toil of a man, who had little to live for now fighting to survive and protect the lives of others. He is powerful. In context this is somberly poetic; "The Grey" is about how each of us reconciles death. T.S. Eliot wrote: "This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper." With inspired contrast Neeson and Carnahan in "The Grey" the hero never folds and fights on. "The Grey" is provocative and subtly profound.
Physically imposing Channing Tatum as Aaron politely asks Gina Carano
as rogue agent Mallory to give herself up. She replies, "I don't think
" Tatum throws hot coffee in Carano's face, and then viciously slams
her head into the counter. She weathers the beating, and then picks her
moment to unleash quick hooks. She manipulates Tatum to the ground and
snaps his arm in a jujitsu lock. Carano is a fierce presence and a
genuine force on screen. She is gorgeouslong black hair and ultra fit
body. The former MMA champion is imposing herself standing at 5'8". But
she is fighting ripped 6'1" Tatum and Michael Fassbender. Carano is the
real deal. Director Steven Soderbergh does justice to her fighting
acumen. In "Haywire" you see full body fight choreography with speed,
power, and precisionno quick cut edits with torso shots. Carano
delivers a vicious front kick to Fassbender that sends him crashing
through a door that you can almost feel.
So Soderbergh, known for "Ocean's Eleven" movies and "Traffic", is making an action movie? Curious, indeed. "Haywire" is at its best in accelerated mayhem and destruction. Lem Dobbs story seems almost an afterthought or excuse for Carano to just kick some assmostly a means to an end. Carano is a powerful physical presence. In Dobbs's story Carano plays Mallory Kane, who is black ops operative for clandestine group that contracts to the Company, headed by slick sociopathic Ewan McGregor as Kenneth. Kenneth is Mallory's former lover as well. Kenneth provides his manpower to Government Intelligence Head Coblenz played with menacing charm by Michael Douglas, who at times devours the scenery. Mallory along with Aaron run the hostage retrieval operation in Barcelona for the enigmatic Rodrigo played with passionate zeal by Antonio Banderas.
Kenneth subsequently sends Mallory on a mission to Dublin as "eye candy" with Paul, deadly and cool Michael Fassbender. Mallory discovers her betrayal--her cover is blown and forced to go rogue. When does an operative ever not go rogue in a movie? Dobbs's story is formulaic, but then again it was never intended to be more. Of course Mallory is determined to exact her revenge with extreme prejudice. Soderbergh infuses sufficient style and motors through the narrativewhat little exits. "Haywire" is at its best when Mallory is beating the crap out of bad and good dudes. When it slows, it is not so compelling. Bill Paxton plays retired Marine Lt. Col. Kane, Mallory's Dad. According to the story Mallory was also a Marinein Special Forces? Here Dobbs's narrative is dicey. He never hints at the source of Mallory's elite killer skills. Are we to assume she is a prettier and leaner version of the Steven Seagal persona? However, here Soderbergh provides the dramatic arc for Mallory when she calmly warns Kenneth in her father's presence, "You can tell me right now why you sold me out." Or she will kill him.
Carano is charismatic. However, is she really a compelling actor? Hard to discernin "Haywire" she plays sullen and singular in focus. Soderbergh wisely orchestrates and leverages Carano's strengths. I think it would be interesting to see her in a more multi-dimensional roleshe kind of hints at vulnerability here. She is solid in her part. She has an uncanny chemistry with Channing Tatum, who also has distinct physical presence. His laid back charm compliments Carano's intensity. Carano's physicality also has a downside, particularly in this vengeance tale. She may be too overpowering for the logical narrative showdown. Still watching Carano springing off the wall and crashing with devastating hooks and kicks is awesome. Too bad Soderbergh doesn't give Carano much more to do than that. At least they both leave us wanting to see more.
Director David Fincher's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is amazing.
Rooney Mara is awesome as the Girl with the tattoo. She is a star. Mara
inhabits Stieg Larsson's anti-hero hero Lisbeth Salander. "The Girls
with the Dragon Tattoo" is one of the best movies of the year. My bud
Neil cautioned me that the movie is 2 hours and 40 minutes, and slow in
the beginningto set up the context, and worth it. Daniel Craig is
unrecognizably physically vulnerable and compelling as Mikael. I think
Craig is the most threatening physical presence as James Bond; this is
distinct contrast. He plays the tarnished writer seeking redemption,
researching a 40 year-old murder of the cryptically dysfunctional
Vanger family. Jeff Cronenweth's striking cinematography captures the
existential bleakness. Trent Reznor's innovative score lyrically
balances the foreboding narrative.
Fincher gravitates toward the darker lurid human crevices. I squirmed watching his shockingly explicit sodomy scene. This derives from the source material. From one point of view, the pivotal character arc for Lisbeth forges familiar rage and calculated retribution. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" gleans on the surface unsavoryserial murder, and the aftermath of physical and sexual abuse. I was initially puzzled by Fincher's remake of movies based on Larsson's novels which were acclaimed. Fincher triumphs and his vision warranted. He exquisitely underlies the virtue of humanity amidst its brutal inhumanity.
Set in the austere winter of Stockholm, Lisbeth is the tortured Goth savant researcher on retainer to an international security firm. Mara with Lisbeth's facial and body piercings, tattoos, and spiked black hair is not your typical corporate researcher. She is the genius biker computer hacker with both photographic and auditory memory. Fincher has subtle reveal as Lisbeth memorizes the door security code as she strolls by an apartment.
Fincher, Mara and Steven Zaillian's screenplay hint at the haunting possible abuse that shrouds Lisbeth's pastshe suppresses great fear and anger displaying compartmentalized focus. In a glimpse into her rage, Lisbeth brutally beats a robber with her kickboxing skills. I have been watching a lot of Dr. Drew. Apparently, a ward of the state, Lisbeth is a loner spending her time eating micro-waved cup noodles, while immersed in her cyber research tasks. One of those subjects was Mikael (Craig). Though apparent recluse, Lisbeth seeks out both men and women as lovers. Mara is magnetic. Lisbeth had a beloved guardian, who suffered a stroke. Her current guardian is creepy attorney Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen), who leverages appalling favors from Lisbeth to access her family money.
Mikael Blomkvist (Craig) is the disgraced financial journalist losing a libel case and his fortune to businessman Wennerstrom (slick charming Ulf Friberg). He is co-owner of Millennium magazine with his lover Erika Berger (strong Robin Wright)both are married, to other partners. He has a grown daughter. Mikael resigns. Meanwhile, Frode (menacing Steven Berkoff), the family attorney for Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), patriarch of Vanger Industries, contacts Mikael with a curious offer. Plummer is brilliantly controlling and charismatic as the suffering Henrik. Every year he receives a pressed flower from anonymous sender. His niece Harriet had always sent him this gift; however, he believes she was murdered over 40 years ago when she vanished in 1966. She was 16 years old. Henrik wants Mikael to find the person, who murdered Harriet, who he believes is family. In return, he will pay handsomely and give Mikael critical information. Harriet's brother Martin (icy cool Stellan Skarsgard) is the smart and measured man, who is now CEO of Vanger Industries. Mikael lives in a cottage on the Vanger estate on Hedeby Island and operates under the guise of writing a Vanger biography. Mikael soon discovers the depth of the Vanger family dysfunction.
Frode ironically connects Mikael with Lisbeth to further his research which is at an impasse. They know their own personal connection. Mikael says, "I want you to help me catch a killer of women." Their lives intersect and the twisted journey spirals down the dark path. Thankfully, there is light. Rooney Mara is powerful as the broken hero. Daniel Craig is amazing as the compassionate partner. Mara and Craig are such amazing actors, who capture fear, sadness, and surprise in their eyes. David Fincher tells the hero's story with graceful triumphs and muted losses. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is awesome.
Sitting on the barn floor with his 14 year-old son Dylan (angst plagued
Colin Ford), who fears taking a chance on a pretty girl Lily (sweet
hearted Elle Fanning), Benjamin Mee (resolute Matt Damon) implores,
"Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage
And I promise
you, something great will come of it." Director and Writer Cameron
Crowe's "We Bought a Zoo" is about the courage to take a risk and
follow your heart. Matt Damon is powerful and sublime. Crowe wrote the
funny and poignant screenplay with Aline Brosh McKenna ("The Devil
Wears Prada") based on the book by Benjamin Mee. Yes, this is based on
the true story of the Mee family, who bought a home with a zoo in
Southern California. "We Bought a Zoo" is wonderful surprise. I was
touched by its humanity, the authenticity of loss, and the celebration
of life. Colin Ford is amazing as the dour teen Dylan, who transforms--
creating new beginnings and his life.
Crowe is poetic in catharsis. Lily asks her cousin zoologist Kelly (brightly intense Scarlett Johansson), "If you were to choose: animals or people?" The socially clumsy Kelly answers with a beaming smile. Crowe and McKenna's metaphor is about the people we love. Matt Damon is understatedly bold as widower Benjamin, who veers orthogonally in life in an attempt to forget the loss of the great love of his life, Katherine (beautiful Stephanie Szostak), only to be reminded of her in everything-- including the fate of an ailing tiger. This is not so far-fetched, and endearingly human. Benjamin can't even have lunch with his older accountant brother Duncan (ironically fostering Thomas Haden Church) at any restaurant associated with his memories of Katherine.
Damon is Benjamin, a fearless adventure newspaper columnist, at the crossroads of his life. When we first meet him, he is rushing his kids Rosie (precociously cute Maggie Elizabeth Jones) and Dylan (sullen Ford) to school. Mom passed away less than a year ago. Rosie doesn't completely grasp the aftermath. Dylan channels his anger and fear in his macabre Gothic art exemplified in the drawing of propelling bloody decapitated head in a school display, which gets him expelled. Troubled Dylan demonstrates genuine talent, albeit clinically disturbing. Dad prefers Benjamin instead of Ben, which was his Dad's distinction. In an exit scene vaguely reminiscent of Crowe's "Jerry Maguire", Benjamin quits his job. Consequently, the Mee's look for a new home. One home resonates with Benjamin, and it houses an entire zoo. Rosie immediately falls in love with it. Jones's face captures the wondrous enchantment of a 6 year-old. Here Damon is amazing as he witnesses the joy of Rosie, and his entire world alters. . Dylan on the other hand thinks this is crazynot what he wants. Crowe reveals his story with ease, grace and humor.
Along with the Zoo, Benjamin inherits the Zoo Staff. Their leader is impatient and unwavering Kelly Foster (Johansson). If Benjamin chooses to proceed, they have to prepare for an inspection by July, by the beyond anal retentive Walter Ferris (comically humorless John Michael Higgins). Inevitably, this will cost Benjamin his family inheritancesomething Duncan (Church) vigorously reminds. Honestly, Kelly can't figure whether Benjamin is the naïve savior or the well intentioned fool? I found Johansson refreshingly strong and no nonsense. This is the most transparent I've seen her in a roleit is awesome. Obviously, she is the possible romantic interest, but she keeps us guessing. Similarly, Elle Fanning (Dakota's younger sister) is clearly smitten by brooding Dylan, although he is too self-absorbed to know what's up. She is the young soul full of light and life.
Damon is the brilliant nexus of "We Bought a Zoo". He embodies powerful gravitas and grace as a man completing the past and boldly expanding into the unknown. There is a heart wrenching scene where he argues with Dylan about the family and Rosie. Benjamin's children remind him of the best in his late wife. And Dylan ironically reminds Benjamin of both the worst and best of himself. Again, this is not a bad thingsimply a human thing. In the eloquent fade away, Damon along with Ford and Jones touchingly remind us that all it takes is 20 seconds of insane courage. Life goes on.
Tom Cruise slashes a side kick at the bad guy's head in a vicious fight
in the Dubai Tower Hotel room. Almost 50, Cruise is as intense as ever
and looks amazing. He is strong and fit executing deadly impact in his
martial arts fight sequences. Under Director Brad Bird's lead Cruise
displays distinct gravitas and an unexpected sense of humor as intrepid
Agent Ethan Hunt in "Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol". I saw
"Ghost Protocol" in IMAX, and it is visually breathtaking. Given the
technology of the medium, apparently 25 minutes of the movie was filmed
in IMAX. First time live-action Director Bird ("The Incredibles")
selectively created action sequences for the effect including Cruise
scaling the outside of the 160 plus story Dubai Tower, and demolition
of the Kremlin. Bird generates amazing style, energy, and emotion. He
and Cruise make this the best "Mission: Impossible". In fact "Ghost
Protocol" may be one of the best movies of the year.
The scope of the movie is ambitious. Writers Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec's story spans from Budapest, Russia, Dubai to Mumbai. The plot is often flimsy with Bird throttling through with manic velocity. The character driven story elevates "Ghost Protocol" with powerful Cruise and charismatic Jeremy Renner as Brandt. They have an unexpected fun chemistry. In a hysterical scene following a brutal assassination attempt, Brandt argues with Ethan about how he knew that using a flare and a dead body would ensure their escape. Intensity is both their strong suits, and their effacing humor is priceless. Bird always seems to influence the right tone.
As "Ghost Protocol" opens Agent Hanaway (rugged Josh Holloway) is gunned down by assassin Sabine Moreau (seductive Lea Seydoux) in failed mission operationcompromising Russian Nuclear Launch codes. Surprisingly, Ethan (Cruise) is captive in a Russian prison. At the conclusion of the last "Mission: Impossible" we recalled Ethan heading off into the sunset with his new wife, Julia. What went so wrong? IMF agents Jane (stunning Paula Patton) and Benji (comically ironic Simon Pegg) brazenly break Ethan out of prison, with unforeseen complications. Jane explains the reason for his rescue, and she confesses to Ethan her relationship with Hanaway in her blown op. Turns out anarchist physicist Hendricks (evil dour Michael Nyqvist) also associated with Cobalt, is determined to use the codes to initiate global thermal nuclear war.
Ethan and his team accept their mission which takes them to the Kremlin to stop Hendrickshere it gets a little fuzzy. However, in a massive conspiracy the Kremlin is reduced to rubble. In IMAX this has an eerie authenticity. Ethan, Jane, and Benji become framed for this terrorist act. The President invokes Ghost Protocol on the IMF, disavowing them. Ethan has clandestine meeting with resigning IMF Secretary (great and grave Tom Wilkinson) and "Analyst" Brandt (acute Renner). The Secretary offers him an out, but tragedy consumes.
Going rogue Ethan and his team must stop Hendricks. The mysterious Brandt is seemingly more than he appears. Here Appelbaum and Nemec's character play engrosses within the twirling story threads. Renner brilliantly balances his aloofness and courage as Brandt. He more than holds his own with the fighting sequences with Cruise. He is a physical presence. Brandt shares his dark secret with Jane. Paula Patton is stellar as Jane. Patton is stunningly beautiful and strong, but also plays emotionally wounded. Cruise has a poignant moment with Patton warning her that her revenge jeopardizes their mission. His Ethan confesses that he also knows what it is to lose someone you love. Pegg as Benji seems solely comic relief. Fortunately, Bird and the writers allow Pegg to expand and transform into a hero as well. Tom Cruise leaves nothing in the tank. He is awesome. He reminds us of his commanding presence and displays a maturing sense of mortality. And Tom does almost all of his stunts. In the grand scheme this makes "Ghost Protocol" soar. The distinction of the hero is that he is someone, who is in action. That is Cruise here. We cheer for him whether he is careening on the Dubai Tower or trying to stop the end of the world. Brad Bird delivers us the killer visual spectacle in his hero story. I love movie heroes. I love "Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol".
As Kermit the Frog plays his banjo and sings "Rainbow Connection" with
his estranged Miss Piggy, I broke into a big smile. "The Muppets"
generates retrospective fond memories for me, also reminding me how old
I am. Unlike me, The Muppets are timeless. Jason Segel, a dedicated fan
of The Muppets, provides irreverent reverence in "The Muppets" as
co-writer and human Gary, who helps get "the band" back together. Jason
Segel had his signature Muppet moment with the Count Dracula puppet
rock opera in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall". I read a review in
"Entertainment Weekly" which brilliantly characterizes "The Muppets" as
"unironic humor". "The Muppets" is refreshingly unique in its innocent
transparency much like its endearing characters. "The Muppets" is just
fun and funny.
First off, "The Muppets" is a musicalwith puppets integrated with humans. I really was not expecting the musical part. We get a clue in the beginning as Jason Segel's Gary and his school teacher girl friend Mary of 10 years, wonderfully played by Amy Adams, who displays her amazing "Enchanted" gifts; suddenly break into song and dance on the crowded streets of very rural Smalltown, Kansas. Director James Bobin has a knack at dialing in the musical numbers without a sledgehammer telegraph. When he doesn't it is intentional. His direction has a distinct charm and follows the natural flow of Segel and Nicholas Stoller's screenplay. Like Segel, we really get Bobin and Stoller's love for "The Muppets". I wonder if The Muppet's wide eyed goofiness overcomes the distinguishing retro charm, and crosses over to a new generation. That would be nice. Hearing Gary Newman's "Cars" blaring on Kermit's radio as they assemble The Muppets for one last show is funny for my generation. At least Segel and Stoller are humorously self-aware. In one hysterical scene, humorless and spunky Rashida Jones as network programming exec Veronica says, "You guys are not relevant anymore!" She also illustrates on a pull out chart. Classic.
Part of the ridiculous charm of "The Muppets" is that people and Muppets are integrated unquestionably. Gary has a diminutive younger brother Walter, who looks amazingly like a Muppet, but no one else in the movie seems to notice. Gary lives with Walter, who is a huge Muppets fan. The Muppets speak to him. Walter (voiced by amazing Peter Linz) is gentle and proud in his geek-dom, which is awesome given the current state of bullying. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of their relationship, Gary plans a vacation with Mary (Adams) to Los Angeles. However, Walter is also coming along so they can go on The Muppets Studio tour. Earnest Gary is clueless to Mary feeling emotionally threatened by his protective love for his little brother.
Much to Walter's chagrin, The Muppets Studios is a deteriorated shell of what it was. Eavesdropping on oil tycoon Tex Richman (hysterically evil Chris Cooper), Walter discovers the dark conspiracy, and Richman's selfish motives for the property. According to the lease Kermit signed, unless The Muppets come up with $10 million, the Studio will belong to Richman. Gary, Mary, and Walter track down Kermit to save the Studio. The Frog seems to have become a recluse in his mansion, joyless in his retirement. There is no Piggy, the love of his life. Walter pleads with Kermit to get the Muppets back together so that they can raise the money with one last showa telethon. Walter convinces Kermit, "You're my hero "
Thus, the journey begins. It is great reuniting with the gang like Fozzy, Gonzo, Scooter, and Dr. Teeth. I especially loved the Animal reunion. We find Animal in an Anger Management 12 Step retreat with his sponsor Jack Black, playing himself. Black is great. Across the Atlantic Miss Piggy is the Plus-Size Editor of French Vogue in Paris. Emily Blunt is at her "The Devil Wears Prada" best as Piggy's hot haute Assistant. But apparently, Kermit refuses to admit to Piggy that he specifically needs her, more than just "they need". Will the Muppets save the Studio? Will Walter discover the greatness within himself? Will Kermit get off it and be with Piggy? What other celebrities will drop in for cameos? Remember this is "The Muppets". Things have a way of working out. It is more than just a trip down memory lane. "The Muppets" is fun and loads of laughs. And yes, we still cheer for them after all these years.
Old Santa (Jim Broadbent) with his sons, Arthur (James McAvoy) and
Steve (Hugh Laurie), silently witness the magic of Christmas morning,
as their animated faces fill with wonder in "Arthur Christmas". My eyes
welled, as Director and Writer Sarah Smith touchingly and whimsically
reminds us that the world works when no one is left out, and they know
this. Sony Animation's "Arthur Christmas" is visually amazing. I did
not see it in 3D, and I thought it was great. It is the heartwarming
and hysterical screenplay by Smith and Peter Baynham that lives and
breathes in "Arthur Christmas".
So how does Santa Claus deliver all those presents on Christmas Eve, so every child in the world can open their gifts Christmas morning? This generation of Santa is advanced technology and complex mission operations leveraging GPS and NORAD databases. No kidding. Santa commands the helm of S1, a Star Trek Enterprise-like ship that also cloaks as the Christmas night sky. The Elves go all Tom Cruise- Mission Impossible executing Special Forces synchronization delivering the presents in the designated drop zones. Smith directs the animated chaos with excitement and precision. Leading the Mission Operation from Mission Control North Poleamazing ice citadel of Elves and flat screens, is older brother Steve, (Hugh Laurie, brilliantly confident on the verge of pompous). Old-school and misunderstood nerd younger brother Arthur (gentle and passionate James McAvoy), intervenes the operation with handwritten letters to Santa, "I just want everything to be perfect!" All heart Arthur personally writes back all of the 2 billion children, who write letters to Santa. To his soul, Arthur believes that Santa is the greatest man in the world.
After celebrating this Santa's 70th mission, gift wrapping Elf Master Bryony (great and spirited Ashley Jensen) discovers an undelivered gifta child was missed! This is the pink bicycle sweet little Gwen requested from Santa. Arthur had assured Gwen (precious Ramona Marquez) that Santa exists and gave his word that she will be remembered on Christmas. From Steve's perspective that is a 10 sigma error, within the parameters of mission success. Steve brazenly believes he is heir apparent to Dad. Santa (Broadbent) over the years, is the jovial old man reduced to figure head, also perhaps lapsing into Alzheimer's. He is content to spend quality time with Mrs. Santa (sensible Imelda Staunton) following the mission.
Arthur enrolls the help of Grandsanta (crotchety Bill Nighy), because Gwen must wake up Christmas morning with her bike. Be careful what you wish for. Grandsanta goes really Old School, dusting off the Sleigh and the reindeer. And Arthur is reluctantly along for the ride with stowaway Bryony. Every gift must be wrapped. Obviously, all does not proceed as planned particularly without GPS navigation. The animated flight and visuals are seamless and fun. However, Grandsanta's action is all about making others wrong. Arthur's spirit is tested, but for him it is always about bringing joy to a little girl on Christmas morning. He is the selfless noble soul, who gets that it doesn't matter who delivers the gift. It's about love. "Arthur Christmas" is touching, funny, and gets it right.
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