A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 356 – Mission: Impossible

Mission: Impossible – February 19th, 2011

The show this movie is based on was never really on my radar when I was younger. When it came to spy shows my family veered towards the British, with The Avengers (which did a parody episode late in its original run). My television viewing was severely limited for years, with only PBS and some vetted and parent-approved shows on VHS once we got our first VCR. So since my parents weren’t into it, I just never really got exposed to it early enough for it to be a formative thing. Still, it’s iconic even if you don’t know it. It’s one of those things, like James Bond. So even though I was essentially going into this blind, I still had some knowledge.

And no, I hadn’t seen this before. I never felt a pressing need to. I’m not a big Tom Cruise fan and it didn’t hold any nostalgia value for me. I watched the abomination that was the Avengers movie redo, of course, but why bother with this? No one was telling me it was too good to miss. Just that it was a fun action movie. There are lots of fun action movies. This one just stayed unwatched for me until tonight.

It was fun. In a lighthearted heist/spy/action sort of way. I think the tone was a little lighter than I prefer, but my impression is that the lightness to it is intentional. It’s supposed to be full of impossible tech and unbelievable action and go so far over the top that it’s obviously on purpose. But there’s still a good spy story going on here. It’s got double crossing and rogue agents and backstabbing and a good cast so I can’t complain there. I think the prolonged scene in the computer room with Ethan dangling like a worm on a hook was a little slow – I never really felt like there was any true risk of him setting off the alarms or that he’d be caught if he did. After all, If he was got caught it would be a different sort of movie. This isn’t a movie about Ethan being interrogated. It’s a movie about Ethan putting a rebel team together and pulling off an impossible job to get his life back.

Maybe it’s just that I’ve seen plenty of spy movies or maybe it’s that the movie wanted us to know, but I figured out the true mole early. Like, during the original job. And I thought for a bit that it would ruin the movie for me, but it didn’t. It’s still fun to watch Ethan work it all through himself and figure it out. And then the movie went and did the reveal well before the final action scene anyhow, which I found a little odd. Like it was just too good a secret and the movie had to tell! It felt like kind of a let-down, to be honest.

But really, I think I’ve been ruined for this sort of movie. There’s a point at the beginning, when Ethan Hunt realizes that he’s being set up and that the people he’s supposed to trust are plotting against him. And he gets a look of steely determination on his face and tells his boss that he’s never seen Ethan angry (you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry) and then Ethan blows up a fish tank and escapes. And I could think of nothing so much as Jason Bourne going rogue and scaring the shit out of his former handlers and well. Ethan Hunt just doesn’t inspire the same sort of glee at watching a professional go to work as Bourne does. But I’m not sure if he’s really supposed to. It’s supposed to be fun on some level, and it is. But the fun part is the over-the-top heist type stuff that goes on. And when we get to all of that? With Hunt on a wire above a weight-sensitive floor and all? I’m back to Matt Damon (and George Clooney and Brad Pitt and the rest of them) in the Ocean’s movies. Sure, both the Bourne movies and Ocean’s movies were made after this, but I feel like they took the cool parts of this movie and separated them out and then did them better.

Okay, the tech used is ridiculously out of date and silly even for when it was applicable. Search usenet for Max? max at job 3:15 as an email address? Oh, that’s just sad. But the tech isn’t the big problem for me. The problem for me is that for all the fun action and showcased badassery, I never really felt like there were high stakes. You’d think that several dead teammembers would be all I’d need for it, but even with all of that the point was more to see how Ethan would win rather than to see if he would. And I guess it just doesn’t do it quite well enough. It comes together, but it has to flat out tell us how it’s going to do that. So all in all, it’s fun, but I’ve had more fun with other movies.

February 19, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Mission: Impossible

February 19, 2011

Mission: Impossible

I loved the old Mission: Impossible shows as a kid. The were broadcast late at night on channel 38 (or was it 68?) That’s when I got most of my sixties spy show viewing done. The Saint. It Takes a Thief. That sort of thing. I even watched the new Mission Impossible that was on TV in the late eighties very briefly (during the same writer’s strike that caused the first season of Star Trek TNG so much trouble.) I didn’t see an awful lot of episodes, but I saw enough to understand the hook to the show. In every episode Mr. Phelps will be given a mission for his IMF team. If any of them are captured or killed the secretary will disavow any knowledge of their existence. They will have some complex plan to extract information from a foreign agent or some such and just when it seems that their plan has gone awry and everything is lost it will turn out that the disaster in the third act was part of the plan the whole time.

This movie pays homage to the show with a number of references, but it is really a completely different beast. I was delighted by the fact that there’s still a tape that self destructs and a Mr. Phelps and a complex plan. They even prominently feature the classic theme song. At the very start of the movie there’s sort of a quick episode of the TV series, or at least what feels like the conclusion of an episode as we get to see the IMF team accomplishing one of their missions. But very soon it becomes clear that these little nods at the start are all we’re getting of the old TV show – the movie is a more action oriented production. Something goes disastrously wrong with an IMF mission and this time it’s not actually part of the plan. Our hero is IMF team leader Ethan Hunt, one of the only survivors of the mission gone bad. He must find a way to use his super-spy skills to discover who betrayed his people.

Brian De Palma is more closely associated in my mind with gritty grime dramas (such as Scarface and The Untouchables) but he does a good job putting together a summer action flick here. My memories of the movie before I put it in to watch this evening had been distilled into the two big set-pieces. The hanging-from-the-ceiling break in at CIA headquarters in Langley where Ethan steals the crucial bait he needs to flush his enemies out, and the fight on the roof of a bullet train headed from England to France. The whole movie is an excuse to make these two scenes happen, and that’s okay with me because both of these iconic scenes are worth the price of admission.

I’m not overly fond of Tom Cruise in this movie though. He plays Ethan with a kind of manic energy that really gets on my nerves. It’s the crazed grin that bugs me most. I think it’s intended to show that he is not intimidated when facing dangerous situations but it makes him seem inappropriately happy and kills the tension in a couple scenes. The rest of the cast, however I have no complaints about. My favorites are Ving Rhames (who is in tomorrow’s movie as well) and Jean Reno. (For the second time in just a couple days I wish that we had Ronin to watch.)

What I like most about this movie, though, is that it launched a most unusual franchise. Every new movie in this series is a surprise to me. It’s like a strange sort of rite of passage for extraordinary directors, or perhaps an exclusive club of some sort. I never would have expected Brian De Palma to make a summer action movie starring Tom Cruise but here it is. And it was followed by John Woo, then by J. J. Abrams. There’s a fourth movie in production right now which will be the live-action debut of the inimitable Brad Bird. Unbelievable. I’ve seen the second movie in the series – the John Woo one – several times because it’s so silly, so over-the-top and so very John Woo. I can’t wait to watch it again tomorrow.

February 19, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment