Monday, December 19, 2011

a movie that needs both a colon and a hyphen in its title

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol opened in IMAX theaters last weekend with great results and will open wide this week. Studios are hoping that this week's word-of-mouth will encourage audiences to view it in IMAX, which is of course a little more expensive. But if there is any film that someone might want to see in IMAX, this would be the one, if just for the greatly publicized death-defying stunt that Cruise pulls as he rappels Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest structure in the world. But that sequence, as spectacular as it is (and it truly is), is just the tip of the movie's iceberg. Icebergs are practically the only thing Cruise's Ethan Hunt doesn't go up against in this fast-paced thriller. He and his IMF espionage team break out of a Russian prison, and into the Kremlin all before his stunt in Dubai, which is just the first half of the movie.

That's Cruise, Tom Cruise
The plot is something about Cruise and Co. needing to stop a nuclear warhead being set off — why the villain (Michael Nyqvist) of the piece wants to do that is never adequately explained, but seriously, who cares? People are in the theater to see Cruise in his impossible, unstoppable form. While I was watching the movie I couldn't help but marvel at 49 year-old Cruise, truly a madman. Not in the mean-spirited sense that the internet likes to imply, but he is a fool for his art. The man will do anything to get people in the seats, to entertain them.

Why else would he perfect his trademark high knee, arms pumping running style (and be sure that he is always running)? Or make such a physically demanding movie when he could settle back and drink G&Ts by the pool, or just do comic cameos like he did in Tropic Thunder? Certainly he is his own worst critic — a lot of his stunts seem expressly designed for him to prove to himself he's still got it, but again with that main motivation to get us into the theater. I expect Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol will do just that. Its main box office opponent in the thrills department this week was the new Sherlock Holmes film, which didn't do as well as expected (although I'd like to see that one, too). When it opens wide next week it should clean up.

Pump those arms and legs, Tom, a sandstorm's coming
Cruise's fascinating adrenaline junkiness aside, what was most interesting to me was director Brad Bird's (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille) seamless transition from animation to live action. It was Bird who insisted on filming in IMAX vs. 3D, God bless him. I am so sick of dull 3D and want to see its over-priced gimmickry go away. There's nothing wrong with a huge screen, like the old classic movie houses of yesteryear, especially for a film like this. Bird expresses this sentiment more eloquently:
"Part of the pitch of 3-D has always been “It’s more immersive.” And I agree that added depth perception is immersive, but you dim the image down and now I’m taking a step back. You put on glasses and now I’m taking another step back ... I feel like multiplexes and the shutting down of the grand old theaters have taken a lot of the showmanship out of presenting movies. There used to be a thing such as “first run.” The meaning of “first run” is gone now because on opening day you can see a brand new movie on a good screen but it’s more likely you’ll see it on a crappy screen. ... To me, the best example of showmanship now is IMAX. I pushed to shoot in IMAX, and Paramount went along with me ... the image quality – you can’t get that any other way … you really feel it when it’s in IMAX. Maybe one of these days I’ll get to do a whole film that way." — L.A. Times
The view from up here is spectacular
Almost 30 minutes of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol was filmed in IMAX, including the thrilling shots in Dubai. But the script also has lots of humor, which is a very welcome counterpoint to Cruise's Ethan Hunt, who most of the time is required to be deadly serious, although even he is allowed a few well-placed one-liners. The comedy comes mostly from his team members Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner. The team is rounded out (and very curvaceously) by Paula Patton, who is much more than just a pretty face, as she quips and kicks butt as well as the rest of them. Fans of Lost will also enjoy a blink-or-you'll-miss-him cameo by Josh Holloway. Hopefully Hollywood will take note how very much at home he was in an action-adventure movie, albeit briefly.

There are quite a few visual set pieces besides Dubai — a car chase in a sandstorm, an automated multi-level parking garage in Mumbai (full of product-placement BMWs). There were also some amusing uses of technology. As the gang pulled off one maneuver after another, sometimes using just an iPhone I couldn't help thinking, "Disarm a nuclear warhead, track a bad guy in a sandstorm: they've got an app for that." But mostly Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is entertaining. It's not a "ride" — one of my most-hated Hollywood parlance used to sell a movie. It's a full-frontal assault on your senses. It's take-no-prisoners, full-speed ahead. Just like the character of Ethan Hunt, just like Tom Cruise.

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