Tag Archives: Tom Cruise

Mission: Impossible Smoothly Delivers Spectacle, Spy Movie Cliches

Mission Impossible — Rogue Nation
Three stars (out of four)
PG-13 (sequences of action and violence, brief partial nudity)
131 minutes

Few movie franchises make it to a fifth installment without showing signs of weariness, age or impending death.

When it comes to cinematic longevity, “Mission: Impossible” is that spry, old guy you keep running into at the gym. Still going strong. Doesn’t look a day over 45. Will probably outlive us all.

Powered by the unflagging energy of Tom Cruise, this unstoppable machine of a franchise debuted nearly 20 years ago, inspired by the classic 1960s TV series. It remains serviceable and stylish, as evidenced by its latest chapter, “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation.”

The film is directed by one of Cruise’s go-to writers, Christopher McQuarrie, who also helmed “Jack Reacher,” but acquits himself much better here. “Jack Reacher” was a mess, but “Rogue Nation” delivers spectacle and spy movie cliches with panache. It is everything we’ve come to expect from a brand built almost entirely on Cruise’s intensity, daring, self-performed stunts, and patented “action run.”

So what if it feels as if we’ve seen a lot of what we see here in other spy movies, namely of the Bond and Bourne variety?

“Rogue Nation” once again finds Cruise’s secret agent, Ethan Hunt, in his natural state: disavowed by the U.S. government, despite the fact that he and his IMF team are the only thing standing between the world and epic disaster.

After an operation involving a Russian cargo plane goes awry, the IMF is disbanded by CIA chief Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin, whose addition to the “M:I” cast is a no-brainer), despite the fact that Hunt is still in the field, tracking the terrorist activities of a nefarious group known as “The Syndicate.” (What would Hollywood’s super spies do if they didn’t have these shadowy international organizations to foil?)

While government liaison William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) dodges red tape back home, loyal techie Benji (Simon Pegg) is unwittingly lured into the field to assist Hunt in outsmarting the mouse-like, seemingly un-out-smartable supervillain Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). (I wish Lane was a more colorful baddie. I expect more from McQuarrie. After all, he created Keyser Soze, one of the greatest movie villains of all time.)

As Hunt dashes from London, to Vienna, to exotic Casablanca, he becomes entangled with mystery woman Ilsa Faust, a double — or is that triple or quadruple? — agent who presumably works for Lane but has a soft spot for her American rival.

Ilsa is played by Rebecca Ferguson, who resembles classic movie star Ingrid Bergman, best remembered for her role in the film “Casablanca.” Just as Bergman’s Ilsa was torn between Humphrey Bogart’s Rick and Paul Henreid’s Victor, Ferguson’s Ilsa is caught between her weaselly employer and a heroic spy. Or something like that.

McQuarrie is obviously drawing parallels between the two films but the “Casablanca” references don’t make a whole lot of sense. (“Mission: Impossible II” was basically a rip-off of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Notorious” and “To Catch a Thief,” so what the heck.)

Ferguson — who should immediately be cast in any and every film requiring the services of a bad-ass lady — is quite simply amazing as Ilsa. She’s voluptuous. She’s lethal. Her martial arts prowess is rivaled only by her taste in shoes, and yet somehow this doesn’t come off as stereotypical.

More importantly, Ferguson’s Ilsa is 10 times more interesting than the other characters who round out the “Rogue Nation” boys club, including Hunt, who has nothing terribly personal at stake in this installment.

Is it me, or does Hunt actually become less compelling with each “Mission: Impossible” film, despite Cruise’s vigorous commitment and flair for hair-raising stunt work? At times, the film even seems to be aware of this. At one point, Baldwin delivers a monologue with a description of Hunt that borders on parody.

Renner, meanwhile, languishes in a bureaucratic role that doesn’t afford him a shred of action. Maybe Cruise didn’t want the competition? Or is it that Hollywood just can’t figure out what to do with this guy?

Pegg, on the other hand, enjoys a beefed up part as the film’s main provider of comic relief, while Ving Rhames returns to collect another paycheck.

McQuarrie puts the cast through their paces in a labyrinth of plot twists that stretches on for a good 20 minute too long.

All the action sequences are stunning, from an opening scene that has Cruise dangling from a plane to a Vienna opera house sequence that is almost comical in its revolving chain of assassins, shimmying up the rigging, armed with guns disguised as musical instruments.

“Rogue Nation” hits a high note in a moment we expect to unfold with the usual cloak and dagger business of “Mission: Impossible” — fingerprint scanners, uncrackable safes, and impossibly detailed disguises.

Instead, we’re treated to an elaborate set piece reminiscent of the first film’s now legendary laser maze scene. It’s perfectly executed, ridiculously suspenseful and makes it impossible to begrudge the inevitability of an “M:I6.”

Photo: www.trondheimkino.no

 

HBO’s Scientology Documentary is Credible, Astonishing

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Three stars (out of four)
Not rated
119 minutes
(HBO has been rerunning the documentary for those who missed Sunday’s premiere. The film will inevitably be released for home viewing, although no date has been announced.)

I’ve never been a member of the Church of Scientology. I’ve never been “audited.” I’ve never been compelled to part with large sums of money so I can move up “The Bridge.” I’ve never been intimidated or abused or harassed by disciples of that dubious religion.

Despite my lack of firsthand experience, for most of my life, I’ve been riveted, with a mixture of fear and fascination, by the sensational rumors that swirl around Scientology. So, of course, I couldn’t wait to see HBO’s documentary, “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.”

In the late ’80s, my dad took the family on our first official sightseeing trip to Hollywood. Among the bizarre points of interest we encountered were friendly people armed with funny-looking gadgets, offering free “stress tests,” or E-Meter readings, to passersby.

In response to our questions, my father regaled us with tales of the mysterious religion/cult known as the Church of Scientology. During a career in advertising, he’d met several former members who recounted harrowing tales of harassment after “escaping” the church — bullets left in mailboxes, shady characters lurking in cars outside suburban houses, sinister acts that sounded like something from a movie.

Later, as an entertainment reporter, I had my own brief but strange encounter with Scientology.

The newspaper I worked for received a press release announcing an event at Willow Springs International Raceway featuring the Dianetics motorcycle racing team. I was dispatched to cover the event because several celebrities were expected to attend, including “King of Queens” star Leah Remini. (Remini has since become an outspoken critic of Scientology.)

Despite the fact that it was Saturday and I was sick and the raceway was no short distance from my home in Lancaster, I dutifully dragged myself to Rosamond to interview Remini and friends. When I arrived at the track, there were no celebrities to be found, only a cheery publicist who handed me a free copy of Dianetics and explained that Ms. Remini was stuck in traffic.

As the minutes ticked by with nary a recognizable Hollywood personality in sight, she suggested I interview some of the racers instead. Out of politeness, I agreed, listening to enthusiastic personal testimonies detailing how Scientology had helped these guys overcome problems, like conquering fear and tight curves on the racetrack.

After several hours passed, it became apparent that Leah Remini was never going to show up, despite the publicist’s insistence the actress was only a few minutes away. I began to wonder if the promise of her appearance was a lie from the very beginning.

As one church member after another was trotted out to recount to me the life-changing benefits of Scientology, I was overcome with the suspicion that the entire event had been staged simply for the purpose of proselytizing unsuspecting rookie journalists.

After what seemed like an eternity, I managed to make my excuses and break free, hightailing it back to the office with a story to tell my editor and the lingering sensation that I had only narrowly escaped this unexpected, vaguely creepy situation.

Maybe that’s why I found it easy to give credence to the bold, often horrifying allegations in “Going Clear.”  Based on a book by Lawrence Wright, the documentary first created a stir in January at the Sundance Film Festival. After a limited theatrical release, it premiered Sunday on HBO to a viewership of 1.7 million. That’s the biggest audience for one of the network’s docs since 2006’s “When the Levees Broke,” according to the Hollywood Reporter.

The fact that most of the accusations in “Going Clear” cannot be corroborated, thanks largely to the Church of Scientology’s notorious secrecy, doesn’t make the film any less credible or shocking.

Veteran documentarian Alex Gibney has a way of quietly creeping up on his topic, saving the more astonishing revelations for the end of the film. It’s an insidiously clever approach. The film’s gradually escalating flow of revelations is calculated for maximum impact.

“Going Clear” begins predictably with a history of Scientology and its creator, science-fiction author L. Ron Hubbard. Gibney’s portrait of Hubbard relies heavily on the recollections of the writer’s ex-wife, Sarah Northup, who claims her former spouse once kidnapped her child and kept the girl in a cage. Northup also recalls that Hubbard was obsessed with creating a religion so he could enjoy the profits tax-free.

Gibney paints a colorful picture of Hubbard that is so bizarre, it’s difficult to deny the man was anything but completely bonkers. It makes director Paul Thomas Anderson’s roman a clef “The Master” seem tame in comparison to the apparent reality.

If you’ve spent any time reading about or researching Scientology, there’s nothing terribly surprising about much of this information, or the details of the religion’s wackier tenets, including a creation myth involving an alien overlord named Xenu and extraterrestrial spirits that cling to human hosts, causing them psychological trauma.

“Going Clear” really starts kicking butt and taking names when Gibney delves into a series of face-to-face interviews with eight former high-level members of the church. On-camera appearances by present or past members are a rarity and these “talking heads” have a lot of damning things to say about the religion’s alleged history of abuse, physical violence, manipulation, blackmail, fraud and cult-like lack of transparency.

“Crash” director Paul Haggis recalls being innocently sucked into the church while beginning his screenwriting career, claiming that members are kept in the dark for years about Scientology’s absurd core philosophies.

A publicist who was once a respected member of Hubbard’s elite Sea Org operation and a friend of celebrity Scientologist John Travolta remembers undergoing weeks of church-mandated rehabilitation that involved imprisonment and forced labor. She was pregnant at the time.

Several former church officials admit to participating in lies, intimidation, cover-ups and blackmail using scandalous personal information culled during the intense auditing sessions members are encouraged to undergo.

The jaw-dropping highlight of the film comes when Gibney actually has the guts to call out two of Scientology’s most famous ambassadors — Travolta and Tom Cruise — for their complicity in the church’s corrupt practices.

The doc goes so far as to allege that Scientologists conspired to break up Cruise and ex-wife Nicole Kidman and entertainingly addresses some of the crazier rumors that surfaced shortly before Cruise’s infamous couch-jumping phase.

“Going Clear” also goes after Hubbard’s successor, Scientology’s current leader, David Miscavige, a charismatic figure of controversy whose alleged ruthless and paranoid tactics are credited with filling the church’s coffers even while depleting its membership.

If even a handful of the misdeeds described in “Going Clear” are true, then the Church of Scientology’s tax exempt status should be revoked immediately, as suggested in the film.

And we, as a society, should scrutinize this so-called religion with sharper eyes, instead of dismissing it as merely harmless and eccentric.

Photo: http://www.sundance.org