December 29, 2011

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

It's been five years since the previous Impossible Mission, and fifteen years since Ethan Hunt first ran across a movie screen. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol may not be any more memorable 5 or 15 years from now, but its humor distinguishes itself from the rest of the series. I sense that director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) can't help himself but make the movie funny.

Overkill: 130 stories? Wouldn't a fall from 13 stories be enough to kill him?
Strangely, the stakes are much higher in this episode, while it's the funniest episode too. Ex-KGB officer Hendricks (and John Boehner lookalike Michael Nyqvist) is intent on triggering a nuclear war. Hendricks blows up the Kremlin and neatly frames Hunt in the bargain. Once again Ethan Hunt is "disavowed". Hunt's boss is literally saying goodbye when their Chevy Suburban is riddled with bullets. The driver is killed, and the SUV swerves out of control down a dark Moscow street. At this point I leaned over to my friend Adam and whispered "there's going to be a river." Sure enough, they plunge underwater, and upside down too. Why is there always a river nearby? How come when a driver is shot, the vehicle never bumps gently into a Quizno's?

That's what I call network security!
 Hunt has to take his team rogue to save themselves, and the world. The team includes Simon Pegg's newly-promoted field agent/comic relief (but not too silly), and the latest young Mission Impossible ingénue, Paula Patton, who seems to have a furrow permanently dug between her brows, like she's constantly forgetting a phone number. Jeremy Renner is reluctantly tagging along, a cube-bound spook...with a secret?

So this volume was exciting, sexy, and funny. The chases were all kinda the same- The Tom Cruise Run is best taken in limited doses for maximum effectiveness. I like car chases, but I kept thinking of the Bourne movies redefinition of vehicle chases. Maybe the producers choices were limited by their paid BMW placements. I was surprised they were allowed to rip the roof off a BMW convertible! The other thrills were solid - I liked the fights and Cruise's wall-crawling. The cat-and-mouse games worked too. By the last gasp, I felt like I had seen one too many chases, and one too many fistfights. The final fight scene, between a 49-year-old Hunt and the 51-year-old Hendricks stretched my credulity to the breaking point. The movie was sexy for everyone too: Paula Patton is a handsome woman who kicks ass and changes clothes in the passenger seat of an all-electric BMW sports car/spaceship; Léa Seydoux is pure French sensuousness as a soulless, braless assassin; and Jeremy Renner wears very tight trousers throughout the movie, with several lingering butt shots, which I'm told the ladies like?
"I must have left my underwear at my last kill."
Ghost Protocol delivered exactly what I expected, but was funny on top of that. My grade?  B-plus. (At the Capitol Theater, Arlington, with Adam and George)

Don't let the dealership find out about this, or you're going to void the warranty.
Odd Parallel: After Ethan Hunt successfully completes his 130-story outdoor skyscraper crawl, he reenters the hotel with his protective eye goggles still around his neck. He then immediately proceeds to begin the covert part of the mission, but Renner has to remind him to remove his goggles so their target won't see them.
Fast forward one week: I rewatched The Incredibles (one of my top movies of the last decade). Mr. Incredible prevents a few crimes on his way to his own wedding. He changes back into his tuxedo before entering the church, but his friend Fro-Zone has to remind him to remove his mask before entering the church so the guests won't see them. Just a small moment, but odd to see in two Brad Bird movies?

Looking Back

The Mission Impossible movies have been overcomplicated, humorless affairs:
  • I have grown to appreciate the 1996 film -- I can hardly call it the "original" -- even if I probably don't understand it.
  • All I remember about the John Woo-directed M:I2 is Tom Cruise's long hair, a surplus of rubber masks, and some stunt motorcycle riding.
  • All I remember about J.J. Abrams' M:I3 is the nasty brain-exploding implant which kills Felicity (spoiler alert!), and Philip Seymour Hoffman at his most vicious. I remember Ethan Hunt having a wife, but I could not remember who played her. Oh Michelle Monaghan, when I saw you in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, I thought you were going to break out, but you've been treading water ever since.

December 19, 2011

Concert Souvenirs?

It's always nice when my favorite band releases an official live album to accompany a tour I attended. And every once in awhile an actual performance I saw is recorded and released. These days it's easier than ever for a band to make every recording available. Three concerts I went to were recorded and released on official live albums:

"Eleanor Rigby" live at the Worcester Centrum February 9, 1990 
Paul McCartney: Tripping The Live Fantastic

Unlike the contemporary trend towards releasing an entire concert from one night, McCartney recorded many dates of his 1990 tour. The resulting two-disc live album appears to select the best recording of each performance from the rigid set list. The result? The 37-track album was recorded in nineteen different cities. For example, eight tracks are from an eleven-night series at Wembley Arena, but they're from five different nights, and no two songs from the same night are presented together. I has a great time at the show (I had just turned 18, and had been a rabid Beatles fan for exactly 30 months) even if the Rolling Stone concert review spoiled all the surprises in the set-in-stone set list.
In the spring of 1990, six months before Tripping was released, while in New York City on a school trip, I visited a Greenwich Village record store and bought a three-LP bootleg recorded in Los Angeles the previous autumn. The bootleg was pressed on white vinyl with red, white, and blue spin-art designs in the vinyl.

Pearl Jam live at the Orpheum Theater Boston, April 12, 1994
The best rock concert I ever attended was the penultimate date of the Versus tour. Thanks to my friend Meg (Goldstein) Chapman, who sold me her tickets! The show was amazing. Mudhoney was the opening act, then there was a long interval (at least 45-60 mins) before Pearl Jam came on. I remember loving "Go" and "Animal" and the new song "Not for You". In 2011, Pearl Jam released a three-CD Deluxe Edition of Versus including a full CD of the Orpheum show. Due to size constraints, the disc leaves out a third of the set list:

  • Oceans
  • Even Flow
  • Sonic Reducer (Dead Boys cover)
  • Immortality
  • Glorified G
  • Daughter
  • Not For You
  • Rats
  • Blood
  • Release
  • Tremor Christ
  • Once
  • Fuckin' Up (Neil Young cover)
  • Dirty Frank
  • Rearviewmirror
  • Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town
  • State Of Love And Trust
  • Hard to Imagine
  • Go
  • Animal
  • Alone
  • Better Man
  • Yellow Ledbetter
  • I've Got a Feeling (The Beatles cover).
Ben Folds Live at Avalon June 8, 2002
June 8, 2002, three months before we would meet for the first time, my future wife and I would both attend this Ben Folds solo show at the Avalon nightclub in Boston. It was a lot of fun, even if I am not a fan of the Reinhold Messner album.  The live album recorded during that tour features a photo taken at our show (I am not pictured) At least one song from the CD or limited edition bonus DVD was recorded on the night we attended.

December 12, 2011

Attack The Block

A Stub Hubby on DVD review

Attack the Block is another thrilling, funny, stylish, well-crafted UK import: Goonies vs Aliens?
A gang of bored, tough-on-the-outside London teenagers defend their housing project tower block from a horde of killer beasts from outer space.
The gang, led by alpha dog Moses (50 Cent lookalike John Boyega), is in the process of mugging a young nurse Sam (Emily Mortimer lookalike Jodie Whittaker) when a meteorite crashes into a parked car. Moses is attacked by a slimy beast which emerges. Pride wounded, Moses hunts and kills the beast, but this is only the beginning. Dozens of meteorites follow, and the gang gathers a makeshift arsenal and prepare to defend their turf, while dodging the police on one side, and their tower's drug lord Hi-Hatz on the other. We're intimidated at first, but we quickly discover the gang is a bunch of goofballs who'd rather be playing FIFA on the XBox or trying to impress their would-be girlfriends than mugging; while everyone is talking and insulting each other simultaneously, I was reminded of The Goonies or E.T. Moses is the strong, silent type: Boyega exudes leadership. When Moses is arrested by two cops in a riot van, he says nothing as they tackle him and slap on the handcuffs. Moses spots one of the ravenous creatures approaching. After the cops read him his rights, he replies calmly "you better hurry up and put me in that van." Clint Eastwood couldn't have sounded cooler.

The aliens are unlike any creatures I've seen in a monster movie before. That was a big plus. The action makes effective use of the concrete jungle of the housing project, up and down the elevators, and the endless flourescent hallways.
The movie feels completely authentic to the inner-city poor Londoner experience, their attitudes, and the social dynamic is well explored within the context of the movie too.
And maybe best of all, the screenplay structure is airtight. All of the details fit together perfectly, and the internal logic of the movie all pays off in the end. The ending is realistic yet satisfying.
Attack The Block was written and directed by Brit comedy veteran Joe Cornish in his feature directing debut; he has co-adapted the screenplay for Steven Spielberg's Tinin movie (with
Steven Moffat and Edgar Wright.)
Note to my American Readers: I understood about half of the rapid-fire South London dialect. I expected this going in, so I was not surprised, and I never misunderstood a plot point because of it. If you rent it on DVD, perhaps the close captioning could help, but I'm giving this an A grade even without the benefit of complete comprehension.

December 6, 2011

Maybe George Lucas Isn't So Bad After All

I watched a few minutes of Terminator: Salvation on TV this weekend (my review), and it got me thinking about creative control, and George Lucas' legacy.

I have complained that Lucas's complete creative control over the Star Wars franchise has completely smothered the whole universe. His stranglehold over the characters has prevented anything interesting or daring from happening to the series. Instead of interesting or daring, we got three terrific movies, a sixteen-year gap, then three very well-executed and polite, but lifeless "prequels." I would have preferred a wild, daring failure instead of the comatose failure of the prequels.
Then I watched Terminator: Salvation. We can all agree that Cameron is a visionary. Terminator 1 and 2 turned out EXACTLY the way he wanted. Only Arnold returned for Terminator 3. Now Terminator: Salvation is the flip side of the George Lucas coin: a sequel completely unfaithful to the source material. Terminator: Salvation is a competent robots vs. humans post-apocalypse chase movie, but bears zero resemblance to what made the first two Terminator movies great.
So when I see the lamest part of the prequels on basic cable: Jar Jar Binks, Baby Anakin Skywalker, or the flying R2D2, I have to remind myself: if Lucas didn't have total control over Star Wars, 20th Century Fox would have remade and continued to sequelize the Star Wars franchise. Imagine three more Star Wars movies in 1986, 1989, and 1991, with the quality of the movies and the original creative team dwindling with each episode. Maybe Star Wars would have ended up like James Bond: some good, some bad, but immortal and evolving.
OR, maybe Lucas's stale, airless prequels are the best possible outcome? WE WILL NEVER KNOW.