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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol


There's a Tom Petty joke here. I refuse to make it.

It's worth noting, because of the above picture, that Tom Cruise performed all of his stunts in this film. As well as the other three Mission: Impossible films. Sure, there are bits of CGI (though, seamless) and I'm sure a large team of medics and nets and other things around to make sure he's alive at the end of the day. But, that's really the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, it really is the tallest building in the world, and that really is Tom Cruise off of its side. Thousands of feet in the air. 

And that's not even the most impressive set piece in the film. 

You don't necessarily have to see the first three M:I films to get this one and enjoy it, but, it can't hurt. Here's a brief recap of them just in case you missed them:

Mission: Impossible - they make the hero from the TV show the bad guy in the film.
Mission: Impossible 2 - they do some stuff with motorcycles and Thandie Newton.
Mission: Impossible 3 - There's an actual story involving Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his now late wife, involving her death and a couple other intricate missions. Probably the only important story of the three, even if it's not the best film at that point. Up until now, the first adventure remained the most startlingly well made of the series.

But, with the inclusion of Ghost Protocol into the canon, those three seem a mite irrelevant in the world of filmmaking. The film is directed by Brad Bird. And yes, you know that name - he's mainly directed films for Pixar. The Incredibles and Ratatouille, notably. And, as action oriented as those films are, it would make sense that he make the swing to live action, right? The transition is almost as seamless as the CGI in the film, of which - I understand - there isn't very much of, where we think it would be. 

I've read in a couple different places that this Mission is much more of a character piece than the first three. I was a bit skeptical going in that a four-quel to a massive action franchise would shift gears so suddenly,  but it seems that Fast & Furious struck a chord with action filmmakers. You can take the same characters, and same plot structure, and give them personalities to benefit the action. After all, if we don't care about Ethan Hunt, how can we care about his life that hangs in the balance as he does a hundred foot vertical nose dive in a car, knowing he's about to smash into concrete, with no way of escape? 

I noted that the Dubai Dangle (which is what I'm calling it) isn't the most impressive set piece in the film. That hundred foot vertical drop? That's it. And that's toward the end of an extremely well choreographed fight sequence that goes on for about ten minutes, amid all other sorts of espionage wonder. Second only to that scene is an unusually creepy - for this sort of film, anyway - cat and mouse game in the middle of a sandstorm, calling back to the glory days of Brian De Palma (the first film's director).

The film's story seems fairly simple, at a glance. There are nuclear launch codes that are changing hands, and the team has to track them down and get them. Except that the team is no longer government sanctioned, because of a large and explosive accident, and there are only four of them left. Ethan Hunt (Cruise), Jane (Paula Patton), Benji (Simon Pegg), and now Brandt (Jeremy Renner). To be fair, Brandt got dragged into the middle of it. He wasn't even supposed to be there. We find out later exactly why it is that he's useful.  The film follows the Law of Economy of Characters* to a tee. 

Don't be fooled by trailers or by the previous films, even if you aren't a fan. There are moments in this film that are jaw-droppingly well done, even if Bird and Co. might have missed the opportunity to give the audience some pretty classy cinematography here and there, the film stands well enough on its own, and as part of the series. 

* = The Law of Economy of Characters - about 90% of the time, you'll never be introduced to a character unless they have some form of importance to the film, big or small.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

2012 Academy Award Nominations - Full List

'Always a bridesmaid, never a bride' my foot. - Peter O'Toole

It's not often that you can have diarrhea in a sink and get an Oscar nomination out of it. But, Melissa McCarthy proves that it is indeed possible, with her heart-on-her-sleeve, hilariously unashamed performance in Bridesmaids. It was a pleasure to hear Kristen Wiig's name called to, when the film caught a surprise nomination in Best Original Screenplay. 

I haven't made any official or un-official predictions about anything this year, except that J Edgar would probably suck (and I was right. there's a review coming this week). But, I'm thrilled that Gary Oldman has finally gotten his due, getting his first nomination ever for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (look for a review of that this week, as well). 

Best Picture
The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Help
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
War Horse

Best Director
Woody Allen - Midnight in Paris
Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist
Terrence Malick - The Tree of Life
Martin Scorsese - Hugo
Alexander Payne - The Descendants

Best Actor
Damien Bichir - A Better Life
George Clooney - The Descendants
Juan Dujardin - The Artist
Gary Oldman - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt - Moneyball

Best Actress
Glenn Close - Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis - The Help
Rooney Mara - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep - The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams - My Week with Marilyn 

Best Supporting Actor
Kenneth Branagh - My Week with Marilyn
Jonah Hill - Moneyball
Nick Nolte - Warrior
Christopher Plummer - Beginners
Max von Sydow - Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Best Supporting Actress
Berenice Bejo - The Artist
Jessica Chastain - The Help
Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer - Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer - The Help

Best Original Screenplay
Woody Allen - Midnight in Paris
JC Chandor - Margin Call
Asghar Farhadi - A Separation
Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist
Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumulo - Bridesmaids

Best Adapted Screenplay 
Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, and Stan Chervin - Moneyball
George Clooney, Beau Willimon, and Grant Heslov - The Ides of March
John Logan - Hugo 
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash - The Descendants
Bridget O'Conner and Peter Straughan - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Best Foreign Language Film 
In Darkness
Monsiuer Lazhar
A Separation

Best Animated Feature
A Cat in Paris
Chico & Rita
Kung Fu Panda 2
Puss in Boots

Best Art Direction
The Artist
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Midnight in Paris
War Horse

Best Cinematography
The Artist
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
The Tree of Life
War Horse

Best Costuming
The Artist
Jane Eyre

Best Documentary Feature 
Hell and Back Again
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Best Documentary Short Subject
The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of a Civil Rights Movement 
God is the Bigger Elvis
Incident in New Baghdad
Saving Face
The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

Best Editing
The Artist
The Descendants
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Best Make-Up
Albert Nobbs
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
The Iron Lady

Best Original Score
The Adventures of Tin Tin
The Artist
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
War Horse

Best Original Song
"Man or Muppet" from The Muppets
"Real in Rio" from Rio

Best Sound Editing
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

Best Sound Mixing
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

Best Visual Effects
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Real Steel
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Best Animated Short Film
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
La Luna
A Morning Stroll
Wild Life

Best Live Action Short Film
The Shore
Time Freak
Tuba Atlantic

That's all well and good, sure. But... who's winning? Well, if we tune in on February 26th, on ABC, Billy Crystal will lead us to the answers!

Check back in later today for thoughts on the nominees and guesses on the winners.