August is invariably a quiet time for Taking The Short View in terms of items to review, the TV schedules having been swept clear of new material and left devoid of anything anything much worth reviewing, especially in a summer dominated by the Olympics. While I could have used all this sudden free time to go to the cinema instead, I increasingly find it difficult to find anything worth getting excited about in this age of big-spectacle but empty-headed superhero blockbusters.
However, there are always exceptions. Ever since I was a young kid, I’ve had a steadfast tradition of going to see the latest movies in three franchises in particular the minute they come out in the cinemas: James Bond, Star Wars and Star Trek. It was the turn of the latter to premier a new instalment this month and sure enough I maintained my tradition and saw it shortly after it came out. Which was, of course, some weeks ago now.
Why the delay in posting a review? I could say that an unexpected spike in work in the meantime has thwarted my attempts to write up a review, and there would be some truth in that, but it would only be part of it. The wider answer is that after seeing the film I just couldn’t get up enough enthusiasm to write anything, and that admission probably speaks as eloquently as to my feelings about Star Trek Beyond as any words that follow. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s hard to believe that the Mission: Impossible film franchise has been going for nearly 20 years now. Few series have that sort of longevity these days. And it’s not as though it has the billion dollar blockbuster appeal of the likes of James Bond, Star Trek, Star Wars, Transformers or the never-ending Marvel Cinematic Universe. Instead the Impossible Missions Force quietly just gets on with it, surfacing every few years to deliver another status report before going dark again.
The first film in 1996 was the typical “let’s revive a much loved television show for an updated modern theatrical release” which was all the rage both then and indeed still today. A quite cold espionage thriller directed with trademark icy precision by Brian De Palma, the film alienated many with its treatment of one of the TV series’ most beloved characters. It took four years for a sequel, and when the second film appeared in 2000 it was a completely different beast, a manically over the top action film directed by the inimitable John Woo. The two entries were as different as ice and fire and only the iconic theme music and burning fuse credits together with the return of Tom Cruise in the starring role of IMF agent Ethan Hunt seemed to even hint that it was part of the same series at all.
Other than being a star vehicle for Tom Cruise performing many of his own eye-watering stunts, the series didn’t really seem to have much of a purpose and had long since lost touch with the TV show’s premise of intricate heists and deceptions undertaken by a team each with their own unique talents, compared with the one-man-does-it-all Ethan Hunt. When there was no sign of a third film for six years it appeared that the franchise had come to a natural end. Read the rest of this entry »
These days I strictly ration my visits to the cinema, with the exception of two franchises that will immediately override the austerity lockout: one is the James Bond series, and the other consists of the Star Trek films. Currently the tally of each stands at 13 for the former up to last year’s Skyfall (or 14 if you include Never Say Never Again, which of course I don’t) while Star Trek Into Darkness marks the 12th film of the science fiction series that I’ll have dutifully trotted out to see during its initial theatrical run.
Let’s cut through the suspense and deliver the bottom line: is it any good? The answer is yes, very. If you love the 2009 JJ Abrams-helmed reboot (see my contemporary review here) then you’re almost guaranteed to love this follow-up since it contains all the elements that made the first film so successful, including the jaw-dropping spectacular visuals, non-stop adrenalin-rush thrills, the jittery camerawork and jump zooms and of course the lens flare that slathers every shot to the point of self-parody. Of course if you were among that group that felt the first film made a travesty of the original spirit of the Star Trek series then none of this is going to do anything to persuade you to the contrary this time, either. And I confess, I had at least one foot in that camp and wasn’t as utterly thrilled with Abrams’ first outing as many people were as a result. Read the rest of this entry »
Ahead of seeing Star Trek Into Darkness, here’s a review of the first JJ Abrams that I wrote on its original release in May 2009 and reproduced from the general topic blog that I had at the time …
The new Star Trek movie is a great piece of entertainment and easily one of the best action movies of the year. As a relaunch of the Trek franchise, it’s an outstanding success. But for all that, don’t believe the hype – it’s good, but it’s just not great.
Viewed as an attempt to reboot, revive and recast a moribund franchise, it’s an unqualified success. While remaining true to the underlying Trek ethos, the film manages to be fast, funny and action-packed where the old series and movies could be slow, ponderous and preachy. Yet despite any carping from die hard fans, the film is remarkably true to Gene Roddenberry’s vision of an optimistic, altruistic and inspirational future. And despite the misgivings of many a fan, myself included, the recasting of iconic roles is almost without exception a collection of huge successes.
Zachary Quinto, for example – so great in Heroes, where he plays arch villain Sylar with an intelligence, subtlety and an outrageous amount of scene stealing that he’s almost the only reason for watching that show any more – is beyond perfect as Spock. He is both convincingly a young version of Leonard Nimoy’s character, and yet his own man as well, much more expressive, on edge and volatile than the refined and dignified Nimoy. He’s so good that you almost believe that this film and the entire Trek reboot has been sitting on its hands for seven years since the previous film just waiting for Quinto to be ready to accept the role. Read the rest of this entry »
Once upon a time, wet bank holiday weekends were reserved for afternoons with James Bond. But these days there are plenty of pretenders to 007’s throne, and Mission: Impossible with its roots in the 1960s TV series is one of the oldest and most venerable – which doesn’t mean to say that it’s looking on its last legs by any means.
This is a beautifully shot film, through some stunning locations in Eastern Europe, Dubai and India, and with plenty of stunning action sequences, thrills and explosions, but which for once also has some strong characters outside of the central role of Ethan Hunt (played once again by the film’s producer, Tom Cruise) and is directed with considerable skill by Pixar alumni Brad Bird. I can’t think of a single ‘duff’ moment in the film, or a performance that’s less than fully committed and top-notch. It’s about as shining a piece of professional filmmaking as you can get and still have a mass-market blockbuster.
And yet for all its undoubted strengths, I find myself struggling to say that I really got involved or was swept away by the film as it played out. It was always watchable and entertaining, and yet curiously unmoving at the same time. It is something to be admired – and is certainly easy to do so – but somehow harder to like with any genuine passion, which is a shame. The nearest equivalent I can think of is the admiration I feel for some electronics manufacturers like Sony and Samsung that produce really excellent products; but which still don’t produce a tenth of the emotional connection that Apple somehow conjures up out of no where for its iPads, iPhones and iMacs.
If I have a specific, identifiable criticism of the fourth film in the M:I franchise, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, it might be that it is simply too episodic and stop-start. We go through four or five separate intricate scenario set-ups and executions during the course of the movie, equivalent to four or five episodes of the original TV series on which it is based. One after the other, with only a few beats of character building between them before we’re off again. The first couple of times is exhilarating; the later sequence in Dubai also just about holds its own, although after the jaw-dropping antics on the side of the skyscraper it does seem to go on through twist and turn for an incredibly long time. But at some point I just found myself thinking, “What, again?” as a new scenario was rolled out – especially as each new mission was a result of the previous mission having gone wrong. And I was slightly irked when the final climactic moment involved an unexplained plot point ‘cheat’ and a little too much cheese, together with the film’s least convincing moment of CGI which resulted in a bit of a damp squib finish.
Overall it was like they were doing a ‘best bits’ of all the M:I outings of the past, small and big screen, but cramming them into 20-30 minute slots, and at some point I just stopped caring about the whole as much as I should or needed to. In fact the film feels like something of a compendium and pastiche, reminding you of many things but not quite deciding on its own identity – maybe an appropriate ambition for an espionage film. At times it plays like a Bond film, but without the cocksure arrogant swagger; at others it seems to want to be a Bourne outing, but at the same time it’s too polished and glossy (not to mention outrageous!) to achieve that film’s gritty realism no matter how much it tries. Other popcult references come thick and fast, the most obvious being the scene set in an automated car parking facility in India that is a direct lift out of the original Thunderbirds series in concept, but which actually plays out like the climax of Monsters, Inc. in terms of action and story.
It seems churlish to complain, especially when the film really does actually manage to create interesting characters in the middle of all of this that you do really start to care about, in stark contrast to most stunt/FX-heavy action films these days. For the first time since Mission: Impossible made the jump to motion pictures, we actually have an instalment that cares enough about the original series format to set up a credible, fully-realised team of agents without using them as canon fodder or as traitors within ten minutes of introducing them. All of them have believable and individual backstories to make them more than just agents doing their jobs, and all of them are very well played. For once, the M:I film is not just a Tom Cruise one-man band, and it’s hugely the better for it.
Simon Pegg is a holdover from the previous film as the tech geek who is finally allowed out in the field: not only is he the main source of humour, he’s also the main point of audience identification as the ‘everyman’. Paula Patton is beautiful and very believable as a dangerous agent in her own right, but the real surprise is Jeremy Renner who gets to provide a considerable amount of comedy himself as well as a dose of pathos and playing the action hero understudy to Cruise (who is, as ever, taking the whole thing with a total straight-faced lack of humour at the centre of things.) Renner should make an interesting new lead on the Bourne franchise; it’s interesting how much he resembles Daniel Craig, too …
The film demonstrates its artistic credentials by picking up the lead of the original Swedish film adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Michael Nvqvist, although inevitably as arch villain he doesn’t get much to do other than look fanatical and evil; and there’s a nice humorous cameo for Indian superstar Anil Kapoor as the target of a sting in Mumbai. To cap things off there are three very welcome uncredited cameo appearances, one with a very real impact to the plot that I honestly hadn’t expected, and another – Tom Wilkinson playing the boss of the IMF – a welcome face in the middle of the chaos.
It’s a good Blu-ray, one of those films with such spectacular location shooting that to have it in anything other than high definition is a lost opportunity. There’s also clearly been some time taken on the extras, which while short and few in number are put together well and have some thought paid to them rather than just being whatever offcuts they had lying about the editing room at the end of the day.
Perhaps I just need to watch the film again to get into it at a more visceral level rather than hanging on to the plot coat tails of the various mission scenario set-ups. It certainly seems to me the best of the four cinematic outings for the Mission: Impossible franchise outing: compared to Brian de Palma’s confusing, icy first spy outing, or John Woo’s over-the-top follow-up, or even JJ Abrams’ (producer this time around) enthusiastic but messy third film, this is undoubtedly the best of them.
Perhaps its only flaw is that it tries too hard to juggle the DNA of all those preceding films, together with the original series and the Bonds and Bournes of the world as well, for its own good or sense of its own identity and inspire its own sense of passion.