27 posts categorized "Action/Drama"

February 25, 2019


Mission_impossible_twoDirector John Woo's (Broken ArrowFace/Off) hyper-boiled rendering of screenwriter Robert Towne's (Chinatown) razor-sharp script in Mission: Impossible 2 makes the Mission Impossible logo a potentially worthy rival to the James Bond cinema franchise.

Woo keeps similarities to director Brian De Palma's 1996 Mission Impossible to a minimum in this very dissimilar sequel by incorporating his signature slow motion, ballet-of-bullets action sequences against the taut resolve of Tom Cruise's most ambitious action performance to date.


Cruise's current performance as undercover agent Ethan Hunt is virtually unrecognizable from the excessively smiling American emissary in De Palma's film. Where Cruise's former character resembled more of a clean-cut action stick figure going through a series of disconnected motions, the chiseled-faced actor emerges here as a hot-blooded, libido-fueled street fighter with a mind like a steel trap.


Hunt's bristling physicality is articulated in every scene of the film as daredevil rock climber, bedroom seducer and hand-to-hand combat master. Much has been written about Cruise's insistence on performing many of his own stunts to the chagrin of Paramount studio execs and their insurance officers for good reason.

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The film's realism of danger allows it to operate on a higher level of believability and determination. There's no question that Cruise was born to have his unavoidably handsome aspect blown up to fantastic proportions on giant movie screens, but here Adonis meets Bruce Lee meets Steve McQueen. Like McQueen in The Great Escape, Cruise enjoys a thrilling chase sequence on a black Triumph motorcycle which Woo captures to exquisite effect.


Mission: Impossible 2's plot purposefully aligns itself closer to a James Bond film than to an extended version of the '60s television show as De Palma's film did. Rogue IMF agent Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott) steals an extremely volatile German-made virus (called Chimera) to sell, along with its antidote, to a bio corporation for a huge sum of money and stock options so he can release the virus on the world and make even more money selling the antidote. Ambrose's big weakness is an uncontrollable lust for his comely ex-girlfriend and professional thief Nyah (Thandie Newton, Beloved). Ethan, too, falls for Nyah's charms before sending her back into the belly of the beast to live with Ambrose and help recover the Chimera virus.


Mission: Impossible 2 is a movie that revels in the seductiveness of masculine super action with all the bells and whistles of techno-gadgets, fast cars and explosions attached. It's more romantic than anything in a James Bond movie and boasts better Kung Fu scenes than The Matrix. As a sequel, M:I-2 links itself to the original with Ving Rhames (Out of Sight) returning as IMF agent Luther Strickell. Although Luther is stuck behind a laptop computer for most of the movie, Rhames graces the film with touches of humor underlying every line of his dialogue.


But the strongest aspect of the movie is Woo's love of the duel. Ethan and Nyah fall in love while racing on a winding mountain road in an Audi convertible for the lady and a Porsche for Cruise. The two soon-to-be-lovers smash into one another and spin around in a slow motion pas de deux that exposes their mutual need for extreme danger as the only prerequisite for love. Likewise, when Hunt and Ambrose collide in a mano a mano motorcycle collision that gives way to an all-out fist fight, flesh and bones are the final solution to global threat and personal freedom. John Woo's summer blockbuster is surely the most elegant and graceful example of cinema's technology advanced comeuppance so far.


Rated PG-13. 123 mins. Five Stars


Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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October 29, 2016


Sully-poster-2For a near-disaster movie about a pilot who famously kept his commercial jetliner (with “155 souls on board”) above water, Clint Eastwood’s fact-based procedural feels like it was filmed underwater. This film’s dirge-like tempo and similarly muted emotional range of every single character puts a deadening filter between the story and this film’s audience.

It’s more like watching a funeral, than witnessing one of the most spectacular lifesaving events in recent memory.

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Perhaps most troubling is Eastwood’s (possibly subconscious) inclination toward celebrating white people for the sake of their whiteness. If historic Caucasian pap is your thing, then this movie is for you. You can count the number of people with brown skin in this film on one hand. More to that point, the film’s dramatic arc crescendos on Sully and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) agreeing that they “did their job.” If you’re looking for a low thematic bar to hurdle, we’ve go a ringer here.      


Tom Hanks plays Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, the stoic pilot who crash-landed his US Airways plane on Manhattan's Hudson River after a bird strike took out both engines. Hanks’s performance might be true the human model he represents but we don’t get much, if any insight, into what makes Sully tick. He’s an underpaid career pilot whose vast experience, flying many thousands of hours, allowed him to make critical decisions in split seconds that saved the lives of everyone aboard his plane. We already knew that. This film doesn’t explain much that most of our collective American conscious doesn’t already know, other than how flight simulators work.


“Sully” comes across as an exhausted victory lap for Clint Eastwood. Give the guy his due. That still doesn’t mean that he hasn’t made a disappointing movie.

Screen Shot 2022-03-17 at 7.22.16 PM

Rated PG-13. 96 mins.

1 Star


Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Every bit helps keep the reviews coming.

Cole Smithey on Patreon

July 21, 2014


Skin Game
Post-9/11 & Pre-Snowden Spy Thriller Speaks German

Most Wanted ManAnton Corbjin’s unconventional post-9/11 spy thriller (based on a 2008 John le Carré novel) remains an engaging experience despite numerous aspects that weigh it down. Notably, one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last performances — here as a German spook — arrives with the bittersweet realization that the late actor was no longer in full command of his acting skills when the film was made.

Hoffman plays Günther Bachmann, the acting head of an elite government-controlled anti-terror spy unit based in Hamburg. Given his previous performances, Hoffman’s waning German accent and distracted delivery is at times painful to witness. Still, this naturally gifted actor keeps it together enough to support the slow-simmering storyline around him.

The film’s lack of a clear protagonist, much less a viable antagonist, proves to be its biggest stumbling block. The screenwriter (Andrew Bovel) didn’t effectively adapt le Carré’s book to\ proper script form. Nonetheless, Anton Corbjin’s experience as a still photographer — his black-and-white photos of rock stars were featured prominently in New Musical Express for years — contributes greatly to sustaining suspense. Corbijn’s appropriately formal compositions and fluid camerawork evoke a calculated coldness germane to the nature of espionage to keep the audience hooked up until the film’s climatic revelation. 

The modern day narrative begins with the arrival in Hamburg of an undocumented Chechen immigrant. With a scruffy beard and hooded head, the 26-year-old Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) appears from the outside to be a made-to-order Islamist terrorist. Add to Issa’s menacing appearance the fact that he spent the last dozen or so years imprisoned and tortured in Russian and Turkish prisons, and you have the perfect recipe for a radicalized personality ready to snap.

Ironically, it’s Issa Karpov’s possible access to his deceased father’s fortune that facilitates his greatest threat to the Western world. Issa’s old man was a hired assassin in thick with the head of one of Germany’s most powerful private banks. Issa has a letter from his father, and a banking “instrument,” that promises to provide him with tens of millions of Euros if the bank will honor his claim. Issa wants to give the money to Muslim “charities” — code for “terrorist” organizations.

After securing lodging with a Turkish family, Issa receives much-needed assistance from Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams), a naïve attorney for a human rights organization. Annabel is out of her depth, and soon becomes co-opted by Günther Bachmann’s time-sensitive operation to cooperate with surveilling the “most wanted” man — a man she genuinely wants to protect. 

Most Wanted“A Most Wanted Man” is a dense think piece about the scale, scope, and ethically dubious practices of the American government’s intelligence operations abroad — specifically in Germany.

Written before Edward Snowden’s ongoing disclosures of NSA documents and inspired by the pre-9/11 "Hamburg Cell," the film is hamstrung by being too far behind the times. Martha Sullivan (Robyn Wright) is a high-ranking CIA spy adept at playing all the angles to get what she wants regardless of what bridges she burns. Wright’s ruthless character seems to have much in common with the two US spies recently expelled from Germany for just such practices. Germany may well be asking itself, who needs enemies with these kinds of allies around?

Rated R. 121 mins. (B-) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)


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