Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation – Tom Cruise as Older Ethan Hunt?

It is permissible to hate Tom Cruise a little. Especially when one is a scant four years older than the action star who is still in his “Peter Pan” years at 53. Cruise, in Mission Impossible:Rogue Nation may be a little bit older as Ethan Hunt, but no less limber or attractive to the opposite sex.

Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt

It is permissible to hate  Tom Cruise a little.  Especially when one is a scant four years older than the action star who is still in his “Peter Pan” years at 53. Cruise, in Mission Impossible:Rogue Nation may be a little bit older as Ethan Hunt, but he is no less limber or attractive to the opposite sex.

Cinema goers will not have seen the featurette’s that accompany the DVD release(s) where fans can see Cruise going through the paces and doing his own stunts and not being crippled for days at the mid century mark, but they can rest easy in the knowledge that the over 50 action star does an awful lot of his own work. Or they can purchase the Blu-Ray and if they are older gaze in awe at his years younger lean look.

As easy as it is to be envious of the top notch shape the star is in, or his seemingly indefatigable enthusiasm and energy for the work he does, it is just as pain free to admire the man who has risen again and again to unimaginable heights.  In the Mission Impossible franchise alone, Cruise has almost reinvented what amounts to an American icon.

There have been no less than five of the big screen versions of a 1960s (The show ran from 1966 to 1973.) cult classic spy thriller television show that allowed Peter Graves (the real life brother of Gunsmoke‘s Jame Arness) the chance to weekly do the impossible. With Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, Greg Norris, and other notable names like Leslie Ann Warren and Sid Haig, the show was a fan favorite.

The move to make the transition to the big screen and replace “Mr Phelps” with Ethan Hunt was a smooth one, although Graves as Phelps dies in the first seconds of the first in the franchise, and Tom Cruise then became the new “face ” of the IMF.

Thus endeth the short history lesson of Cruise becoming Hunt.

Each visit to the Mission Impossible verse is slightly different although the “template” is pretty much the same, each film is a mission that should fail. These good guys do not have that word in their vocabulary so by the skin of their teeth, the IMF succeed. Cruise as producer manages to keep each new installment in the franchise  fresh by swapping out directors.

The list of helmsmen for the film’s many iterations are impressive, Brian De Palma, John Woo, J.J.  Abrams, Brad Bird and the last, Christopher McQuarrie all come with impeccable pedigrees.  It could  almost be a “who’s who” of talented directors who bring much to the table and each have left their own stamp on the finished product. The cast had Ving Rhames on board from film one, joined later by Simon Pegg  as Benji (Mission Impossible III) and Jeremy Renner came on board for Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.

Increasingly, Cruise’s Hunt and Pegg’s Dunn have become a double act/team. In many ways it feels as though the Brit entertainer, with so many hats, has taught Cruise a different sort of comedy. While this may seem like the case, in reality it is more a dream team  of performers who each compliment the other when on screen and interacting as a duo.

Hunt has always been portrayed as a capable go-getter who is far removed from a mundane Agent Normal  “everyman” with great toys.  Cruise points out that his character is not a superhero as much as someone who just will not give up. Hunt disregards the impossible and so does his team.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, has its fair share of “comedic” moments. Many of these are interwoven into the action scenes so that one can chuckle nervously while watching the action through spread fingers across the face.  This is the allure of the franchise, Cruise can do subtle action comedy well.

(Anyone who doubts this should watch Edge of Tomorrow, immediately.)

This latest in the franchise has a femme fatale to die for, almost literally, in the shape of one Brit/Swede star who has a passing resemblance to Hollywood legend Ingrid Bergman. Rebecca Ferguson is killer as the tough-as-nails double agent who helps Hunt, kicks bad guy butt with panache and still looks great with wet and bedraggled hair.  That “almost” cut glass accent does not impede any action that this powerful woman need employ.

Perhaps the best thing in the entire film is its elusive villain, Sean Harris. This Bethnal Green lad could have been born to play baddies. From his nightmare inducing character in Creep (2004) to his crack-fueled drug and gun dealer Stretch in Harry Brown (2009) and even his less terrifying scientist in the 2013 film Prometheus, Harris gives every character he inhabits a living truth that is either terrifying, disturbing or annoying. Whatever his roles are, we believe them completely. 

It is Harris as puppet master who makes Hunt look so good. On a sidenote, this third outing as Benji Dunn for Simon Pegg marks an increase of his capabilities as an agent.

The plot, like the music, is a blend of twists and turns that take the viewer on a great roller coaster ride. Car chases that amaze and create a sense of envy (After all, who has not dreamed of driving a muscle car down a long row of steps?) as well as choreographed fight scenes that look spectacular.

Apart from the action and excitement the driving force of the film is that  Ethan has had IMF disbanded by the snotty head of the CIA , Alan Hunley.

Clearly Alec Baldwin (that nice guy that any girl would love to take home to mother in Beetlejuice) can play smarmy douchebags in his sleep, which in no way is a reflection on his personal life, by the way… Baldwin manages to emote pettiness and jealousy from his every pore in the film, while kudos could be in order, one feels that the actor could have “phoned this one in.” Baldwin is just that good at being a douche…

The story jumps from place to place at break neck speed, fans of the franchise get what they want (there is even the obligatory face-mask scene) and everything works well. Hunt may be a bit “klutzier” than usual, but it works as does that marvelous plane stunt with the “wrong door” gag.

Having missed this in the cinemas all that can be said is that it loses little on the smaller “home screen” and that it would have been nice to have more Ving Rhames. McQuarrie as director does a brilliant job, the cinematography is as breathtaking as the stunts and the acting, spot on.

Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt may be that bit older, but it appears that the actor either has a painting in his closet a’la Dorian Gray or his membership with the church that Katie Holmes scarpered from has made some sort of deal…with someone….

If this film does not appear in your stocking from Father Christmas this year, rush down and grab it or stream it. This is 5 star escapist entertainment of the finest sort. Fun to watch with a fizzy drink in one fist while shoving some popcorn into your open mouth with the other. Enjoy.

Serena (2014): Jennifer Lawrence in Depressing Drama

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in Serena

There may be a few films on offer that are more depressing than the 2014 drama Serena, but one feels it would be difficult to find them. The film, directed by Susanne Bier and starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper is set during the Great Depression and tells the story of a lumber baron and his lady love who  lose everything by the final reel. 

The drama was a long time coming to the US, after premiering in London and doing abysmally at the box office, it took another year for the film to make it across the big pond to be shown in a limited release and then heading straight to on-demand streaming. While the film does look sumptuous, with the Czech Republic doubling for the Smoky Mountains, the plot is off-putting and contains too many holes and illogical twists to make it entertaining.

Bradley Cooper is lumber magnate George Pemberton, who falls in love with Serena Shaw (Jennifer Lawrence) at first sight. Apparently Shaw’s father, who died with the rest of her family in a horrific house fire, was a lumber baron in Colorado. The two marry after a whirlwind romance and Serena comes back to the Smoky Mountains to help George run his lumber business.

A number of things happen, George’s best friend and partner Mr. Buchanan (David Dencik) hates the new woman in his friend’s life. He makes no bones about his distaste for Serena who sets about winning over everyone else. 

Everyone, that is, bar Rachel ( Ana Ularu), the local girl who has had George’s baby “on the wrong side of the sheets.” She hovers around the lumber camp working her old job while Pemberton gives her money for his illegitimate son. Serena is soon pregnant and an accident on the mountainside results in her losing the baby. She will not be able to have another one and the woman becomes more than distraught. 

Therein lies one of the problems with the film. Lawrence, as Serena, certainly delivers in terms of performance literally chewing up great chunks of emotion and spewing them out. Then falling apart when things go wrong at the end. The loss of the baby is meant to be the main cause of her deadly turn but from the very first Serena Pemberton, Nee’ Shaw, has been proactive in terms of “taking out the opposition.”

She encourages her husband to murder his friend and  business partner and this before she miscarries. The backstory to her character could lead one to believe that there was more than one reason that she survived that house fire, but it is never addressed fully.

Serena’s change from strong positive role model, she trains an eagle to kill rattlesnakes to murderous b*tch from hell does not track, especially when considering her orders to George about killing Buchanan. The loss of the baby does not introduce her cold blooded side, that was present before, but that is what the film does seem to be saying.

Cooper does an adequate job as George but sadly his character is too cold, aloof and (Sorry Bradley) passionless to be likable. One feels it was his money that attracted Serena, just as it attracted the camp washer girl Rachel. There is never one thing that stands out about Pemberton apart from the clear lust he has for his new wife.

Perhaps the only thing that works well is the chemistry between the two, in the love scenes that is. It is, unfortunately, not enough to carry the whole thing along. The creepy Galloway (Rhys Ifans) “he has visions,” is odd enough that one wonders why he is kept on, especially after he becomes oddly devoted to Serena and begins to murder for her.

All the actors deliver. Toby Jones (Wayward Pines,  Berberian Sound Studio) is brilliantly annoying as the small town sheriff with big plans for a national park and a clear animosity towards Pemberton. Sean Harris, as Campbell, is excellent as the doomed chap with a conscience and Ana Ularu as the simpleminded single mom of George’s child is spot on.

*Sidenote* Ularu manages to be doubly annoying as she fluctuates between either moping around the camp or gloatingly playing with George’s love child in front of Serena. One can easily see the new wife getting fed up with having this local yokel hanging around.

For all the beauty of the cinematography and the powerhouse acting involved, the film is depressing  and lacking any real empathy for any of the characters. No one is likable enough  for the audience to care when these bad things happen to them.  Whether it is the fault of Susanne Bier or the script failing to make the characters more sympathetic does not really matter. The film just does not work.

At 109 minutes, the film feels longer and perhaps the pacing could have been picked up a tad although even that may not have saved this third outing of Cooper and Lawrence.   This is a 3 out of 5 stars, the movie does get a full star for the beauty of the locations, and is streaming on US Netflix at the moment. Overall a very disappointing offering from the duo who made Silver Linings Playbook sizzle and crackle.

Deliver Us from Evil: Deliver Us from Poor Marketing

Deliver Us from Evil: Deliver Us from Poor Marketing

While not expecting to be leaping and cowering whilst watching Deliver Us from Evil, it was disappointing to see that Hollywood still suffers from repetitive idiocy when promoting horror films, in fact the title of this Sony “scary movie” could have been Deliver Us from Poor Marketing. This technique of “overselling” the scares of a horror film lets everyone down and essentially sabotages any chance the movie might have had in winning audiences over.