Mission: Impossible (1996)

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Director: Brian DePalma

Cast: Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Beart, Henry Czerny, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vanessa Redgrave

Screenplay: David Koepp, Robert Towne

110 mins. Rated PG-13 for some intense action violence.

 

Adaptations of popular television series are really tough. How do you condense the best parts of a multi-season run into 90 minutes? How can it be done? Some successful versions, like 21 Jump Street, poke fun at the silliness of the source material. Others, like Mission: Impossible, drastically change the series direction while holding up its most important rules.

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Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise, Top Gun, Edge of Tomorrow) has run into a bit of trouble on his newest mission to recover the IMF (Impossible Missions Force) non-official cover, or NOC, list. His entire team has been attacked and Ethan has become framed for the attack. Without long-time team leader Jim Phelps (Jon Voight, TV’s Ray Donovan, Heat) to help protect him, Ethan is now the target of a manhunt set in motion by Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny, TV’s Revenge, The A-Team), and now, with the help of two disavowed IMF agents, Franz Krieger (Jean Reno, Leon: The Professional, Hector and the Search for Happiness) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames, Pulp Fiction, Jamesy Boy), Ethan is out to discover who wants him dead and who has the NOC list.

Mission: Impossible has a somewhat confusing plotline. There is a lot happening all at once, mostly due to the fact that the film went into production without a finished screenplay. Screenwriters David Koepp and Robert Towne were disappointed in the finished product. The original cast of the TV show (of which the film is a sequel) chose not to reprise their roles because they felt that the film was a bastardizing of their beloved property.

I personally found the finished product to be one of the more enjoyable espionage films of the 1990s. Tom Cruise solidified himself as a bona fide action star in a role where he doesn’t fire a gun the entire film. Jon Voight is a great man to take over the role of Jim Phelps from original television actor Peter Graves, who disliked Phelps’ portrayal in the story. I also really liked Reno, Rhames (who would become a staple of the series much like Cruise himself) and Czerny.

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Mission: Impossible contains some truly iconic moments both for the franchise and the action genre in general. The only part of the film that truly irks me is the opening credits (to be fair, I love the opening credits, but the decision to montage important plot points throughout the now-iconic score and opening bothers the hell out of me, but it continues throughout the entire franchise). This is one Tom Cruise property that I can’t wait to see every time there is new installment (except for the second film, but we’ll get to that later).

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 10th Birthday!] War of the Worlds (2005)

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Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin, Miranda Otto, Tim Robbins

Screenplay: Josh Friedman, David Koepp

116 mins. Rated PG-13 for frightening sequences of sci-fi violence and disturbing images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

 

Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln) has always been an alien fanboy at heart. Periodically throughout his career, he continues to return to the genre of the extraterrestrial. He even owned a copy of Orson Welles’ original radio play for War of the Worlds. After many attempts to get a story off the ground, Spielberg was eventually able to do so in 2005.

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Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise, Top Gun, Edge of Tomorrow) isn’t all that great of a father. He loves his kids, but he just doesn’t really know them. His daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning, Coraline, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2) and son Robbie (Justin Chatwin, TV’s Shameless, The Invisible) don’t enjoy staying with him. But when the Earth is attacked by forces from beneath and beyond the planet’s surface, Ray is forced to grow up and become the father he is supposed to be as the family evades invading extraterrestrials who want the world for themselves.

This is a very different film for Steven Spielberg. For starters, the plot runs in a very different way. Rather than unfolding as the film progresses and evolving based on the character choices, War of the Worlds is much more of an action onslaught like previous fare Mad Max: Fury Road. The plot is revealed rather quickly and then takes a step back to the high action spectacle that unfolds for our hero. It was new terrain for the filmmaker.

Tom Cruise does his best to play to his character’s weaknesses here. He isn’t entirely a likable guy but when greatness is thrust upon him, Ray needs to step up and protect those around him from harm. Dakota Fanning plays Rachel to the truest understanding that a nervous child would have during these events. Unfortunately, she is rather annoying in this film. I get that you’re scared, but she is always screaming! Then there’s Justin Chatwin, who has more of his father in him than he realizes as he is conflicted in what he thinks makes a man. Miranda Otto (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, I, Frankenstein) gives serviceable work as the ex-Mrs. Ferrier and Tim Robbins (The Shawshank Redemption, Welcome to Me) gives one of the best albeit small performances I’ve seen from the actor.

War of the Worlds benefits from having Spielberg’s terrific flair for capturing events on film. The sequences are well put together, so much so that you miss some of the inconsistencies in the flow of the film. The sound mixing and editing, for which the film was nominated for an Oscar, are also booming. The invader ships, or Tripods as they are referred, make this unsettling sound as they destroy humanity. That, mixed with the top notch visual effects, give this film a unique flavor and an intensity that continue throughout its runtime.

I wasn’t all that impressed with John William’s score here as it comes off as more sounds mixed into the film than a bona fide music track.

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I can completely get why some didn’t enjoy War of the Worlds. Many called out the underwhelming ending, which is actually taken from the source material and considered one of the best endings ever. I enjoyed, but perhaps the reason is that I knew this was the ending going in. I think without the great irony of the film is that by knowing the ending, it makes it better but not necessarily as thrilling, but by not knowing the ending, it feels like a cop out but is entertaining throughout. My suggestion to best enjoy the film is to read the book first (seriously, this is me suggesting that you read, and that will anger some of you). The film doesn’t necessarily follow the novel’s story at all, but it retains the key themes that should enrich your viewing experience.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, click here.

 

Mortdecai (2015)

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Director: David Koepp

Cast: Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor, Olivia Munn, Paul Bettany, Jeff Goldblum

Screenplay: Eric Aronson

107 mins. Rated R for some language and sexual material.

 

When Mortdecai’s first trailer was released, I was confused. I thought the movie looked horrible, but I couldn’t place why so many people would join this film. I thought to myself, “There has to be a reason” when it turned out that the film just plain isn’t good.

Charlie Mortdecai (Johnny Depp) und seine Frau Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow) - Copyright: David Appleby

Mortdecai (Johnny Depp, Edward Scissorhands, Into the Woods) is an art collector with a fascination with growing a perfect ‘stache. His relationship with wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow, Iron Man 3, Contagion) becomes strained when he is tasked with finding a missing rare piece of artwork by MI5 agent Martland (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, Last Days in the Desert) who just happens to be in love with Johanna. Now, with the help of his personal handyman Jock (Paul Bettany, A Beautiful Mind, Transcendence), Mortdecai has to track down the culprit who stole the missing painting.

This film looks so cheap that I’m sure it would have been a VOD release had it not been for the star-studded cast who just butchers these roles. Johnny Depp’s performance is so annoying I didn’t even bother listening to the dialogue after a while. Paltrow’s accent work flops around like a fish on dry land. I did rather enjoy Paul Bettany’s Jock and the extended cameo from Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park, The Grand Budapest Hotel), but overall the performances are cringe-worthy to the extreme.

Director David Koepp (Premium Rush, Ghost Town) proves that maybe he should just sit behind a desk and write stuff for better filmmakers. Seriously, how did he think this was going to be any good? I laughed maybe twice and I think they both came from me guessing what would happen next.

I think the most interesting piece of style in the film comes from the wacky transitions as they traverse the globe and the problem with them is that they don’t exactly fit every time they are used.

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Mortdecai is an incredibly disappointing film that seeks to become the Johnny Depp Goofy Hour that actually lasts 107 minutes. Very few elements here even work and they work even less when smashed together. I didn’t like it. I really didn’t like it. I’m fairly sure you won’t like it.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So what did you think about Mortdecai? Have you seen it? Did it steal your attention or was it artless? Let me know!

 

[Oscar Madness] Jurassic Park (1993)

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Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Ariana Richards, Joseph Mazzello, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, Wayne Knight, Samuel L. Jackson

Screenplay: Michael Crichton, David Koepp

127 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense science fiction terror.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects

 

I’m going to tell you a story now. When I was a young child, I was positively blown away by Jurassic Park. I just always wanted to watch it. Unfortunately for me, I was absolutely terrified of the film. I never got past the famous T-Rex sequence without running out of the room as fast as possible. Finally, when my next-door neighbor volunteered to babysit me one night, he made me a promise: We were getting through Jurassic Park tonight. And we did. And it remains one of the most thrilling examples of perfect filmmaking even now, 22 years later.

Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill, TV’s Peaky Blinders, The Hunt for Red October) and his colleague Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern, The Fault in Our Stars, Wild) have just been hired by John Hammond (Richard Attenborough, The Great Escape, Elizabeth) to look into his newest project, an amusement park on the island of Isla Nublar. They are joined by Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum, Independence Day, Mortdecai), an observer of the Chaos Theory, as the three discover that Jurassic Park is filled with genetically cloned dinosaurs. When the island’s security defenses go down, the dinosaurs are unleashed, and the scientists must find a way off the island before chaos takes them out.

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First of all, I want to discuss the screenplay from Michael Crichton and David Koepp. I love the original novel and this adaptation is pretty damn close in the overall scope and the tone conveyed. There are a few changes and a few scenes omitted in the name of time, but the script is pretty great for both an adaptation and a film in general.

The list of performers, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, and Richard Attenborough are so perfectly cast that it amazes me. Add in veteran character actors Bob Peck (The Black Velvet Gown, Slipstream), Martin Ferrero (Heat, Air Bud 3), and Wayne Knight (TV’s The Exes, Space Jam), and you have some genuinely perfectly cast players.

Director Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln) had so much invested in this project, and so much faith in it at the same time. It is refreshing to find a director that cares so much about a project. His care for pushing the visual effects envelope while maintaining his style and flair for the suspense and the fantastic.

The look and sound of the dinosaurs literally created the modern view of dinosaurs in film. The incredible sound work (the noises of the velociraptor hatching were created by cracking an ice cream cone and the squishing of a cantaloupe and pineapple) is what earns this film the realism that Spielberg so desperately wanted.

Lastly, I wanted to discuss the famous scene in which the T-Rex’s movement causes a water ripple in a glass. The sound originally came to Steven Spielberg while listening to Earth, Wind & Fire. His production team eventually, after many, many failures, created the effect with a guitar string placed underneath the fake dashboard.

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Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park stands as one of the most groundbreaking and equally effective films of its or any generation. The film still looks gorgeous and has stood the test of time. The special effects haven’t even aged all that much. My hope is that Jurassic World is even partially as good as this one.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

January 2015 Preview

 

Welcome to 2015! January is usually equal parts wide-release Oscar nominees and bad horror releases, so let’s take a look at January’s releases.

As before, this is a look and my predictions are based on my abilities as a film reviewer. I’m pretty good at reading into these things and so here they are in all their glory.

Don’t sue me.

 

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The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death

I wasn’t all that keen on The Woman in Black. I was slightly disappointed by how normal it was. There was nothing to make it stand out as a horror film apart from a pretty good performance from Daniel Radcliffe. It just wasn’t all that original. The sequel looks to be the same fodder. I am curious as to exactly how this film will tie in with the original, so in that way, I’d like to see it, but this feel was clearly dumped in January.

 

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Taken 3

I really liked Taken starring Liam Neeson. I found Taken 2 to be less worthy of the awesomeness of the first film, but at the same time, I thought it was pretty action packed while not being a complete carbon copy of the first. Taken 3 is going in a different direction again, so I can’t wait to see what kind of trouble Bryan Mills has in store for him as he is framed for a crime he didn’t commit.

 

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Blackhat

A Hemsworth in a cyber-crime thriller? No, it isn’t Paranoia, its Blackhat from director Michael Mann. Mann is hit-or-miss for me. I liked Heat. I didn’t like Collateral. I liked TV’s Miami Vice. I didn’t like Miami Vice (the film). I saw the trailer last week and I gotta say, I’m not all that impressed here. On the bubble definitely.

 

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The Wedding Ringer

I know Kevin Hart isn’t the leading man of, how do I put it best, “good” movies. The Wedding Ringer actually sounds pretty funny. Hart plays the owner of a business that places best men in weddings for socially awkward grooms who don’t have the adequate friends to put together a wedding party of his own. I’m not saying good, I’m saying possibly good.

 

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Spare Parts

Spare Parts is the true story of four undocumented immigrants who enter into a national robotics challenge with $800 bucks and borrowed robotic parts and end up facing off against M.I.T. students. It stars George Lopez and Jamie Lee Curtis. The poster looks good, and the story seems pretty engaging, but it also has George Lopez. Yikes.

 

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The Boy Next Door

Hey look, another guy is stalking Jennifer Lopez. After a sexual encounter with a younger man living next door, she discovers that he has taken an uncomfortable obsession to her. I’m just not interested anymore.

 

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Mortdecai

Mortdecai is based on a book and stars Johnny Depp as a charismatic (yeah, again) rogue art dealer hunting down a stolen painting that could lead to Nazi gold. This film is star studded and directed by David Koepp who worked with Depp on Secret Window back in 2004. I loved Secret Window and I still believe in Depp’s abilities. I can’t wait to see what they accomplish here.

 

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Strange Magic

Now, the word stoked needs to get tossed around more for Strange Magic, an eclectic new animated fairy tale from Lucasfilm. Still not a ton is known about this film, except that George Lucas wanted to create another film with the love and affection that Labyrinth has. It also contains new versions of pop songs that were strung into the film’s story. I love it when films like this actually work, so I am excited.

 

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Project Almanac

I actually discussed this movie last February before it was postponed. At that time, it was called Welcome to Yesterday. My thoughts haven’t changed much.

 

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Wild Card

Wild Card is a remake of the 1986 film Heat starring Burt Reynolds. Jason Statham is Burt Reynolds here, a recovering gambler who becomes security-for-hire to fuel his addiction. January Statham is a bad idea. Skip.

 

So there you have it. One more time:

Best Bets: Taken 3, Mortdecai, Strange Magic

On the Bubble: Blackhat, The Wedding Ringer, Spare Parts

Likely Misses: The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death, The Boy Next Door, Project Almanac, Wild Card

 

Look forward to my first list of best films this year coming soon and we will see you for another preview in February.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

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Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightley

Screenplay: Adam Cozad, David Koepp

105 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language.

 

Jack Ryan has lived a lot of lives. First, there was The Hunt for Red October, where Ryan was played by Alec Baldwin. This was the first in a series of films based on Tom Clancy’s popular character. The chronology continued into Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, where Harrison Ford took on the Jack Ryan role. Years later, the character was revived in a reboot called The Sum of All Fears, starring Ben Affleck. Apparently, that reboot didn’t go over too well, and now Director Kenneth Branagh (1994’s Frankenstein, Thor) has revived him yet again in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, a generic and somewhat cliché reboot that is sure to be rebooted yet again in a decade or so.

Chris Pine (Star Trek, Rise of the Guardians) is Jack Ryan this time around, and this reboot focuses heavily on his first mission and inciting character moments. Jack is recruited by Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner, Dances With Wolves, Draft Day) to work for the CIA, complicating matters with girlfriend Cathy (Keira Knightley, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Laggies). The relationship dynamic is completely void here, and Knightley comes off like a wasted draw. I’m far more convinced by the connection between Cathy and Viktor Cheverin, the film’s central villain, played by Director Brannagh.

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The plot here is more suited for an hour-long spy television show from the 1960’s, and has few scenes even worthy of remembrance. Brannagh gets some nice cinematography which compliments the action set pieces nicely enough, but there just isn’t much here to go on. A beginning to a franchise this film is not, the screenplay is more like several stories weaved together, with dialogue and random character development scenes thrown in. For your money, see something with more Oomph! This just isn’t it.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe


Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) on IMDb

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