Mission: Impossible III

The TV series Mission: Impossible had a great formula. Spymaster would go to the shops or the funfair to check his dead-letter drops. He’d get a tape recording from his boss telling him to do something completely impossible. He’d then go home to his penthouse suite, pour himself a drink and leaf through his photo album, while working out a way to do the impossible thing. He’d pick a few people from his album to help him, they’d fly off to some Eastern European country where they’d mess with people’s heads, pull off the plan, then head off home. Cracking. Lasted seven seasons plus a remake show in the 80s that did. You don’t get much of that these days.

Anyway, a few years back, it got turned into a movie starring Tom Cruise. You may remember it. It wasn’t very much like the original show, as it was trying it’s very best to be a proper spy thriller with tradecraft jargon like “exfiltration” weighing down the dialogue and the plot. The second film, directed by John Woo, wasn’t very much like anything except a John Woo film. We’re now on the second sequel and for the first time we actually have a film that sticks to the TV show’s formula, more or less. The trouble is that it’s still not Mission: Impossible.

M:I:III as it’s called is directed by JJ Abrams. He’s the co-creator of Lost and the creator of Alias. He also co-wrote the script with Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, both of whom wrote for Alias as well. So zero astonishment here when I realised after a few minutes of the film that I was watching an extended episode of Alias, but starring Tom Cruise instead of Jennifer Garner. Personally, I’d prefer to watch Jennifer Garner to Tom Cruise on any given occasion but others may differ. Plus she did star in the very sucky Elektra, effectively writing off her chances of appearing as the lead in another action movie for a while.

If you’ve ever watched more than a couple of episodes of Alias, you’re going to get some ridiculously strong feelings of déjà vu with every moment. There’s the opening scene set in China that’s actually a flashforward from the main plot (how will they get out of that? And how did they get into that in the first place?), which is straight out of the first episode. There’s the trademark location details in the corner of the screen whenever they go somewhere new (“Rome, Italy”. No! Not Rome in Italy! I thought that was some other Rome…). There’s the stupid technology, explosive charges planted in brains, etc, all served up by a dissembling techie, here played by our very own Simon Pegg whose few appearances actually steal the whole movie. Then there’s the artifact that needs to be recovered, the so-called Rabbit’s Foot, which has all the hallmarks of being produced by the House of Rambaldi. There’s even a cameo by Greg Grunberg, JJ Abrams’ life-long pal who gets a job in everything he does.

Similarly, there have been Alias-esque changes to the few recurring movie characters. Ethan Hunt (Cruise) has gone from being a typical cocky omnipotent Cruise character to being an angst-ridden agent who’d really like to kick this spying gig so he can settle down and breed with his new wife. Ving Rhames appears again, but instead of the all-business moody character of previous films, he’s now giving relationship advice to Cruise and joking around the water cooler with him. There’s a stupid cover front for the Impossible Mission Force, just like Sidney Bristow’s merchant bank cover for SD6. Short of a menacing, untrustworthy father and a double-agent mother for Hunt, there’s not much more that could have been done to turn him into Bristow.

For the first half of the movie, bar that opening flashforward, the movie still tries to be Mission: Impossible though, right down to the re-use of Lalo Schifrin’s iconic theme for incidentals. But where the TV show relied on misdirection and the agents’ abilities to instill paranoia in their quarries, M:I:III relies on guns, fights and stupid Alias technology to achieve the ‘impossible’. It’s all done a lot better than in M:I 2, but the subtlety of the original has gone. The second half of the movie is pure Alias though, with everything revolving around the rescue of a kidnapped family member.

Nevertheless, the movie is still pretty entertaining. There’s some clever dialogue that only occasionally veers into purple prose. It has a good cast, with Philip Seymour Hoffman throwing in an exceptionally fine turn as the baddie. Maggie Q and Jonathan Rhys Meyers are equally good and are actually given some character-development time – almost unheard of in a Cruise pic. Laurence Fishburne delivers his lines as though he’s getting paid by the minute, but is his typical mesmerising self. The Cruise gives his usual strong performance, although – again as usual – he doesn’t actually act with anyone, just acts at them, completely failing to alter his delivery in response to his co-stars’. The action scenes are pretty well executed and should provide thrills for all.

This isn’t a classic movie by any means, but if you want something to park yourself in front of for a couple of hours while you chew your popcorn, it’s better than most of the other tatt on offer at the moment.

As a reward for making it through this review, here’s the opening titles to season one of the original show. Note the lack of Peter Graves, who replaced Steven Hill from season two onwards.

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TV reviews

CSI: Miami – Some kind words for a change

I normally mock CSI: Miami and its silliness each week. It’s very easy to do, because it’s just so silly. This week’s episode was no different in that respect. However, I do think a few kind words for it are in order, because it remains one of the most visually impressive shows around. So here’s a little photo gallery of praise. Well done directors and DOPs: it’s nice to see someone on mainstream TV doing something imaginative with their visuals.

CSI Miami looking goodCSI Miami looking visually impressive

CSI MiamiCSI Miami

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TV reviews

The US season finales are upon us: Smallville, Supernatural, Prison Break, The West Wing

A good finale to a TV series can keep you watching even the biggest rubbish imaginable. They can be exciting, tense and a whole load of other things.

Stress, of course, is a major health hazard. Therefore, so that UK viewers can brace themselves to an appropriate degree, I’ll be giving near-spoiler free guides to just how tense and exciting each of the major US TV shows’ finales were, starting today. US TV shows don’t end all at once: they’re spread over a period of three weeks or so, so there’ll be another couple of updates to come after this over the next week or so.

Chlark

Smallville

Pretty tense, but not quite as tense as previous seasons’. Some good moments, some irritating moments and one excellent moment. Yes, Chloe and Clark finally get to smooch. Ha, Lana! I’m expecting a typical Smallville memory-wipe next season, though, so the tension will be only temporary at best.

Tension factor: 7/10

Supernatural

Supernatural

The finale was a couple of weeks ago and was actually quite good. Bleak, nasty and with almost no hope for the “sexy supernatural ghosthunters”. Since it’s part of an ongoing plot, I’ve no idea how quickly things will revert to X-Files “monster of the week” or whether there’ll be a format change coming with the move of the show to The CW.

Tension factor: 8/10

They made the break

Prison Break

It’ll be no surprise for anyone to hear that the motley band of inmates manages to escape in the last episode. Or that it all goes a bit pear-shaped. But there are a good collection of other surprises and the ending is actually my one solitary recurring nightmare. Obviously, with them out of prison, there’s going to be a complete change of format in season two, so it’ll be worth tuning in to see what season two will be like “After the Prison Break”.

Tension factor: 9/10

The West Wing's finale

The West Wing

Since the show’s been cancelled, no tension at all here. The finale was written by John Wells, who’s been responsible for most of the worst episodes of the show of late. It had a couple of okay moments and a few resolutions of ongoing plot lines, but not many. A flat ending to a former favourite.

Disappointment factor: 8/10

In the coming guides: CSI, CSI: Miami, CSI: New York, House, Numb3rs, 24, Scrubs, Lost, The Unit (assuming it has a finale soon – they’re showing two episodes every Tuesday now)

Incidentally, in compiling this guide, I watched CSI: New York for the first time in ages because the episode on last week looked like it should have been the finale. But it wasn’t. Anyway, the show’s still dull, it turns out, but I’ll bite the bullet, take one for the team, and watch this week’s episode, too.

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UK TV

Review: Doctor Who – 2×5 – Rise of the Cybermen

The Cybermen are back! The Cybermen are back! Yeah. Whoop-dy do.

I was kind of looking forward to last Saturday’s episode of Doctor Who. But not much. Those publicity shots of everyone’s favourite cyborg who isn’t called Jamie, Steve or Murphy took away my enthusiasm. Star Trek had had the Borg, but these new Cybermen looked almost cuddly in comparison, even 15 years on. Nice one Beeb. The Cybermen could have been the stuff of nightmares. Instead, they’re ‘The Cybies’ in metal moon boots.

So I went into it with low expectations for the Cybermen. Instead, I was keeping my eye on the direction: Graeme Harper, famed and hallowed among classic Who directors, was telling the Cybermen what to do.

All things being equal, though, I wasn’t wholly impressed by Graeme’s first New Who, but then I don’t think he had much to work with. It was an interesting story that I suspect has just enough plot for one and a half episodes. Since they’re spreading the story over two episodes, rather than compressing it down to one, that left the first part distinctly flat and mostly set-up. Part two, however, is going to be worth waiting for since it’s going to be non-stop action.

So what was good?

  • Mickey and Ricky (will one become a Cyberman? Text “Spod” to 80110 for Mickey to get turned into a brain in a tank…);
  • Mickey finally being given a backstory
  • The new concept of the cybermen (brain in a tank)
  • TARDIS in distress and Doctor’s solution
  • Some of those Cyber-isation scenes which are guaranteed to scare the crap out of some of the kids
  • Not feeling like the entire episode was rushed

What was bad?

  • Billie Piper failing to give 110%. She’s starting to seem a bit “flaccid” next to Tennant
  • Don Warrington being given the boot after five lines
  • Another over the top villain in a wheelchair creating a race of monsters (we’ve got Davros for that)
  • Cybermen only being in it for five minutes
  • The new cyber catchphrase. I can’t even remember what it is, it was so catchy.

So not bad. Not brilliant either. I suspect part two is going to be outstanding though.

Incidentally, I know they have some strange music choices in Doctor Who Confidential, but the opening track from Clockwork Orange?

Since this is the second Who posting of the day, I’ve saved up the two Tennant images quota to give you one movie of his being interviewed by John Barrowman. Am I kind or what?

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Lost: a novel new theory

This one hadn’t occurred to me but it makes a whole load of sense:

“It is my opinion that the cast of Lost, having experienced far worse locations than Hawaii and slightly worse scripts than Lost, are stringing this thing out a bit.”

Nancy Banks-Smith, The Guardian