Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Mission: Impossible 5 -- Rogue Nation

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
Ethan is traversing the globe looking for the leader of the Syndicate, an independent organization and "rogue nation" that sows the seeds of discord and instability throughout the world.  He crosses paths with Ilsa, a mysterious agent who seems to be playing all sides, and they work together to steal a file that contains the Syndicate's bank records.  The Syndicate kidnaps and ransoms Benji in exchange for the data, and Hunt looks for a way to bring the Syndicate down while saving his friend.

Memorable Quote:
I can neither confirm nor deny details of any such operation without the Secretary's approval.  ~Brandt

The opera scene, despite being somewhat derivative of the opera scene from Quantum of Solace, is fun and well choreographed, and the operatic music lends some gravitas.

The opening scene with Ethan hanging off the plane is overly goofy and CGI'ed.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Ilsa has a rabbit's foot key chain, a subtle reference to MI3.
  • 17:44 mark -- the bad guys are horrendous shots as Ethan runs away down the narrow tunnel.  You'd think they were trying not to hit him. 
  • 41:35 -- there are hundreds of people in the square yet no one sees Ilsa and Hunt sliding down an 8 story-length rope.
  • Shouldn't the intelligence community be supporting Hunt given his service record?  It's like how in every season of 24, Jack Bauer's superiors end up distrusting his motives despite the fact that he saved the world during the previous season.
  • They stipulate that they can't take oxygen tanks into the underwater chamber but what about one of those little breathing sticks (which you see in movies and almost certainly don't work in real life)?
  • Why would Hunley, given his suspicion of Brandt, allow Luther to man a computer at headquarters under Brandt's supervision?
  • With all due respect to Tom Cruise, is it possible he's getting too old to play the super spy?  He pulled it off this time around, but there were moments where I thought, "He's getting old."  And just last month he broke his ankle filming MI6 which shut down production.  It could be time for Ethan to transition to a mentor role (à la Anthony Hopkins in MI2) and leave the heavy lifting to a young buck. 
  • I like how they pretended that Julia doesn't exist -- they should have just done that in Ghost Protocol also instead of the weird cameo at the end. 

Final Analysis:
A surprisingly good movie!  I say surprisingly because I had only seen once before in the theater before now, and I didn't think much of it at the time (in fact I had gone into this thinking that it was the worst movie of the lot).  But often it takes me a few viewings to warm up to an action/adventure movie, and this movie is not only significantly better than Ghost Protocol, but I'm going to (gasp) rank it slightly ahead of MI3, something I never saw coming.

The tone of the movie is solid -- there's some genuinely funny moments (e.g. the banter between Renner and Baldwin, Cruise failing at jumping over a car) without it being too much or over the top.  There's also a better Benji in that he's funny but not as cartoonish as he was in MI4. Rebecca Ferguson (Ilsa) and Sean Harris (Lane) both give great performances (Harris has a fantastic villain voice), and Baldwin is solid as a supporting character.  And all in all the plot was pretty clever and the scenes were fun and rewatchable.

So that wraps up the Mission Impossible project!  At least until MI6 comes out on video -- I'll see it in the theater but will need a second viewing to process everything.  As for next steps with the blog, stay tuned!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Mission: Impossible 4 - Ghost Protocol

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
Ethan and his team go to the Kremlin in pursuit of Hendricks, a Swede who wants to set off a nuclear weapon. After Hendricks blows up the Kremlin, the IMF is disbanded and Ethan's team is on its own in "Ghost Protocol" status.  They track Hendricks to Dubai and Mumbai where they must stop him from detonating his bomb.

Memorable Quote:
Your line's not long enough!  ~Brandt
No shit!  ~Ethan

There wasn't one highlight that jumped out at me.  I think I'll go with the non-flashy but gritty scene where Ethan escapes from the hospital.  I like the escape itself, even if in real life he'd be paralyzed from the neck down afterwards, and I also like how he then pilfers a few items to blend in with the crowd.

The villain is really disappointing, especially following all-star performances from Dougray Scott and Philip Seymour Hoffman.  I have no problem with the actor but rather how underused the character is.  An action movie is only as strong as its villain, and we hardly get to know Hendricks because he has so little screen time.  What makes him tick?  Why is he blowing up the Kremlin, stealing nuclear codes, and starting a war?  Why did he wear his subordinate's mask to the exchange in Dubai?  And most confusingly, why did he martyr himself by jumping off the car ramp at the end?

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • In the first scene, how is there a giant inflatable mat to catch the guy falling off the building?  The entire opening feels like a movie set where the director will come out at any time and yell "Cut."
  • Generally speaking I'm not a fan of sparking an intentional prison riot as part of a master plan.  We also saw this in 24 Season 3, and it always leads to collateral damage like prison guards getting hurt (or killed).
  • The circumstances around the escape make no sense.  In the van afterwards, Ethan says, "Mind telling me why you broke me out?"  So he didn't know that they were going to break him out, yet during the escape he knows exactly what to do and where to go (and even intentionally looks at Benji on the camera).  And somehow he is able to set up a pickup van to take Sergei, the prisoner whom he broke out, even though he didn't know about the escape and his team didn't know about Sergei.  
  • After getting the mission briefing from the pay phone, they are able to round up all their equipment (including military uniforms, remote control balloon, and magic screen) and get to the Kremlin in less than 5 hours.
  • I wonder if the Kremlin archive room is where they keep the pee pee tape.
  • When the bad guys bring along a nuclear expert to the meet to verify the codes, Ethan insists on giving them the real codes (over Brandt's protest) because it's their only chance to get Hendricks and if they lose him now then he'll just find another way to get a nuclear bomb.  Sorry Ethan, but I'm with Brandt on this one -- why are you assuming that this would be your last chance to get Hendricks?  And giving Hendricks the codes leads to San Francisco being literally two seconds away from getting wiped off the map.
  • This movie relies much more heavily on CGI than the first three movies do, and as is the case with most movies that rely too much on CGI, it weakens and cheapens the film.  The scene with the haboob coming into Dubai is especially fake looking.  And yes, I just dropped a "haboob" reference on you -- picked that one up from The Weather Channel. 
  • The plan is for Paula Patton to seduce the rich Indian guy (the actor is recognizable from Slumdog Millionaire), but how do they know that the guy will go for her?  I'm sure there's no shortage of fine-looking women at the party who would happily throw themselves at the wealthy host, and with all due respect to Paula, how can they know that one smile from her would be enough to get him going?
  • Ethan tells the Russian "Inspector Javert" who is tracking him throughout the movie that they are not enemies.  But what about Javert's men gunning down the IMF secretary and shooting at Ethan and Brandt in the river?
  • The ending with Ethan's wife Julia is bizarre as he watches her from a distance in a nighttime Seattle plaza, and then she sees him and smiles before going into a building.  Huh?  So they pretended she died in order to protect her, but why would Ethan have gotten married in the first place then unless he was willing to give up his spy lifestyle? I imagine they wanted to find a way to not involve Julia in this movie (a decision I support since I'm not a big Julia fan), but they didn't want to say that they got divorced and paint Ethan as a bad husband.  But he moved on from Nyah after MI2 and she was never mentioned again, and I would have been fine with Julia meeting the same fate.

Final Analysis:
While this movie was not as bad as I remembered, it's a huge drop-off from the first three films. Where its predecessors were edgy and serious, this one feels more cartoonish and light-hearted, almost like a comic book come to life.  And I suppose that makes sense since the director, Brad Bird, worked on cartoons like Toy Story 3 and The Incredibles. And there's way too much Benji -- I don't dislike him per se, but he's better in small doses like he was used in MI3.  When he's a major character, it makes the plot too campy and light-hearted -- I'm not looking for too much comedy in my spy movies. 

Friday, September 8, 2017

Mission: Impossible 3 -- The Movie

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
Ethan Hunt has given up field work to train agents by day and be a married family man at night, with his IMF career unbeknownst to his new bride.  He returns to the field to rescue a former pupil, but her subsequent death leads him into the orbit of the arms dealer she was tracking. Ethan captures the arms dealer, but he escapes and kidnaps Ethan's wife, forcing Ethan to go rogue to save her. 

Memorable Quote:
It's fine, I always spill red wine on my white custom-made shirt.  ~Davian

It can only be one thing -- PSH (aka Philip Seymour Hoffman).  He's one of the best actors of our generation and seems overqualified for a Mission Impossible movie, but I'm glad he took the role of Owen Davian because he crushes it.  I find the creme de la creme actors are the ones who can play completely different parts and yet be entirely convincing in each role.  Just look at him in Twister -- he imbues his Oklahoma country-boy character with such charisma and naturality that it hardly seems like he's acting.

He's particularly good in his scenes with Cruise where he delivers his lines with an understated swagger, and he even does a fantastic Cruise impression when Ethan is wearing the Davian mask and getting congratulated by Luther on his marriage.  "Thanks!  Thanks!"

The silver medal for overqualified actors in a MI movie goes to Laurence Fishburne who doesn't have a lot of screen time but owns every scene he's in.

At the other end of the spectrum is Michelle Monaghan (Julia), who really struggles in this role.  I wouldn't say she's a total disaster -- just uncharismatic and lacks chemistry with Cruise.

The scene at the end where she's tied up is particularly cringeworthy and it's partly due to the writing. At one point she asks Ethan, "You ok?" in the most understated way possible -- no, he's not ok, he has a device implanted in his head that's going to kill him in minutes.

And she's not nearly shocked enough to see who Ethan really is -- it's just ho-hum, my husband is actually a spy and he never told me, but that's ok.  And how about the scene midway through the movie when Cruise tells her that he has a secret that he can't reveal but she just has to trust him.  No woman would ever go for that, but she puts on a happy face, marries him 5 minutes later, and then has sex with him in the medical supply closet.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • This movie is written by JJ Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci, where the latter two are Executive Producers of the Hawaii Five-0 reboot.
  • Hunt's cover in his suburban life is as a traffic pattern expert at the Department of Transportation.  The guy he's talking to mocks him behind his back for being boring, but I think that kind of stuff (e.g. how a driver tapping his brakes creates ripple effects on the highway) is genuinely interesting.
  • I like how they reveal Ethan's ability to lip-read at the house party -- his skill is a cool piece of spycraft, and it's clever how they introduce it in the beginning and then bring it back later in the movie.
  • Fun fact: Keri Russell and Jonathan Rhys Meyers starred together in August Rush, a movie that I saw once before and remember little about other than it had a cool rendition of "Moondance."
  • Why do they need Maggie Q to take photos of Davian for the mask -- shouldn't they already know what he looks like?  Unless he's such a ghost that there's never been any recorded sightings of him, but then they wouldn't know who he was when they got there.
  • Pretty cool that they were able to film in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City.  The Vatican scenes are the most fun rewatchable part of the movie -- in particular the entire bathroom scene is outstanding.
  • Back to the lip reading -- you'd have to be one heck of a lip reader to pick up, "Shanghai, Feng Shan Apartments, 1406."
  • Tom Cruise is known for his running in movies, and MI3 certainly delivers on that count.  Multiple running scenes abound.
  • It's silly that Musgrave asks Ethan if Lindsey's microdot implicated him.  As if Ethan would give him a straight answer after who Musgrave revealed himself to be. 

Final Analysis:
Excellent movie and one that I always enjoy rewatching.  It's not quite as skillfully done as the first one or as fun as the second one, but it still gets a hearty two thumbs up from me.  It's been a great run thus far for the MI movie franchise, but things are about to take a turn for the worse.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Mission: Impossible -- Episode 34: The Sands of Seth

To Watch: Click Here

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
Selim, the head of an Egyptian museum, is killing Egypt's moderate leaders in the hopes of proclaiming himself Pharaoh and returning Egypt to the glory of its ancient past.  He worships Seth, an Egyptian god of chaos and death.  Jim and Shannon get close to Selim by pretending to be a father-daughter archaeology team on the verge of a big discovery and with Max playing the part of the aggrieved subordinate.

Memorable Quote:
The Pharaohs are not dead.  They are only sleeping.  ~Selim

The set design was impressive, as was the temple destruction at the end.

The premise of a museum curator wanting to become ruler and take the country back 3000 years was ridiculous enough, but it was made worse by the actor playing him with a cartoonish, unmodulated rage.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • No one ever explains how the mummy strangler in the opening is able to withstand bullets being fired into his body. 
  • Is this the first time that the disk narrator in the beginning says "good afternoon" instead of "good morning?"
  • If Selim is a museum curator whose life's passion is Ancient Egypt, wouldn't he be able to tell that the scroll was created in one minute on a color printer?
  • If the team's end goal was just to take out Selim, they could have tranquilized him at any time and removed him from the country.
  • I wasn't clear as to how Jim, Grant, and Shannon get the rays of light to shine brightly in the temple for the first time ever, according to Grant.  Is it just because Jim and Shannon polished the reflector?
  • The devotees of Seth sure turn on Selim with haste at the end. 

Final Analysis:
Our last episode!  I was I could say we were going out with a bang, but it's more like a whimper.  I liked the setting, but overall the episode was a chore to get through and had a heavy dose of ridiculousness.  Ranking it 26 out of 34.

So that brings me to the end of the series.  I didn't know what to expect going into it since I had only seen the episodes once when I was young, and overall I was disappointed.  There was little to no character development in the series, and that might have been ok if the plots compensated with a high degree of action or cleverness, but largely they did not.

I thought the actors were fine -- sometimes Penghlis overacted and Markwell (Casey) was not very charismatic, and Graves often had the energy of a pencil -- but they were still likable and worked well as a team.  The set designs and explosive work was impressive (perhaps due to filming in Australia and saving money), and the crew did a good job of convincingly creating the look of many different locales.  The second season was at least slowly moving in the right direction, and maybe the series could have been saved with a more favorable time slot. Neverthless, I'm glad I tackled the project, and next up I'll review MI 3, 4, and 5.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Mission: Impossible -- Episode 33: Church Bells in Bogota

To Watch: Click Here

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
The team heads to Colombia to bring down a drug kingpin.  Shannon arrives later as an undercover nightclub singer, but her plane crashes and she develops amnesia.  After the kingpin's nephew falls in love with her and proposes, Shannon must decide whether she wants to reciprocate his love or complete the mission.

Memorable Quote:
He asked me to marry him.  ~Shannon
Do you want to?  ~Phelps

I like how Shannon and Luis establish a genuine connection and real feelings for each other, even if it's surprising that he proposes after knowing her for five minutes.  

There are a few problems with Shannon's stated fear of small planes.  The minor problem is the IMF team surely flies all over the world for their missions, so riding on a small plane can't be that tough for her.  The major problem is that only a few episodes ago, she WENT UP INTO OUTER SPACE IN A %#$@ SPACE SHUTTLE AND THEN LANDED IT BACK ON EARTH ALL BY HERSELF!!!  Somehow I don't think flying on a small plane would bother her after that. Furthermore, her fear wasn't necessary to the story -- the crash could have scared her enough without the preconceived fear of flying, or she could have gotten amnesia from a bump on the head.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Luis tells Shannon that their plane is leaving right after the audition -- I guess she's already packed.
  • It doesn't appear as if the plane is taking an angle that's conducive to a safe landing.
  • As far as drug dealers go, Luis seems like a decent guy.
  • It was only five episodes ago when Shannon was being threatened at knifepoint in the art museum and Jim told Max not to intervene: "Max, no, stay clear.  We have to hold our cover, and Shannon knows that."  This episode, however, they're willing to do whatever it takes to save her, which is nice to see.
  • Grant's streak of ridiculous gadgets continues, this time with special glasses that view an embedded video -- and he just happens to have tape of Shannon having fun with the team.
  • 39:04 mark -- funniest moment of the episode when Grant and Nicholas stop the priest who is going to perform the marriage:
    • "In time, you'll understand all this."  ~Nicholas
    • "I think I understand now.  Bless you my sons."  ~Priest
    • Really, you understand why two random guys just handcuffed you to a car and took your clothes?
  • Every series needs an amnesia episode.  And like DOA MacGyver,  the transition from total amnesiac to remembering everything is instantaneous. 
  • Oh no, the escape vehicle is a small plane -- how will Shannon cope?  Actually, she seems totally fine.
  • If Luis made it to the airport at the end, why couldn't the rest of Magdelena's men?

Final Analysis:
The basic premise was interesting and I enjoyed the episode, but it had a lot more potential.  The plot felt rushed, and it probably should have been a two-parter where more time could have been on Luis and Shannon's relationship.  Shannon's choosing of the mission over the man would have been more compelling if there was a stronger bond between her and Luis, which could have been achieved through more scenes together.  Ranking it 9 out of 33.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

MacGyver Script Analysis: Lesson in Evil

It's time for the 8th installment of my 139 part Script Analysis series where I compare an original script with the final episode.  After the last three scripts came from my lower tier of episodes, I'm happy to say that this one comes from the top tier -- that's right, it's Lesson in Evil starring Dr. Zito!

My script is a 2nd revised final draft dated 9/20/90, and the episode aired on 10/29 -- a notable event as it was the first episode I ever watched.  The author is the great John Sheppard, and the episode follows the script very closely.
  • Zito is described as looking distinguished, even in prison drabs.  His eyes are piercing blue, like being burned by dry ice.
  • In the script, after MacGyver tells the judge that Cross hanged himself in his cell, he adds, I wouldn't be surprised if Zito talked him into that, too.
  • Here's the full conversation in the script between Skinner and Murphy after the hearing (9:09 mark):
    • Skinner: It's not an act, lieutenant.  His behavior's the result of years of therapy and treatment.  He's not the same man you remember.
    • Murphy: I remember he killed nine people.
    • Skinner: That Zito no longer exists.  If only you saw him in our sessions.  He cries when he thinks of his past crimes.
    • Murphy: Since when's a guilty conscience enough to get a killer released?
    • Skinner: He was sick.  And like any sick person, a cure is possible.
    • Murphy: And you really believe that he's come that far?
    • Skinner: I'd stake my professional reputation on it. 
  • I wrote the recap for Lesson in Evil a while ago (1/15/15) and didn't remember what I had written.  It was funny how during my most recent rewatch, I jotted down some thoughts about the episode in general (i.e. not pertaining to the script in particular) such as "Why would they even consider letting Zito go free?  How does Zito get out of the courthouse without anyone noticing him?  How does Zito know Pete's parking space number?  Why does Dr. Skinner yell at the top of her lungs when she sees MacGyver in the cell?  Is that the same staircase from Blood Brothers?"  Then I re-read my original post from two and a half years ago and discovered that I had made every one of those same points.  I guess I haven't changed much.
  • During Zito's escape, the script describes him as unrecognizable.  The plot element would have made more sense if he snuck out of the building without anyone laying eyes on him rather than in a two-bit disguise with blood dripping off of him.
  • We learn from the script that MacGyver has parking space 19 next to Pete's space 20.
  • A fun brainstorming game would be to think of how many villains entered MacGyver's home throughout the series.  We never see Zito actually in the houseboat but we know that he has been there.  Just off the top of my head, I can think of Murdoc, Deborah, Ellen Jerico and her assistant, the Out in the Cold mobsters, the Children of Light thugs, the bug planter in Brainwashed, and the Split Decision bookies.  I feel like there are more I'm not thinking of.
  • Another script-only conversation when Skinner is in the ice bath:
    • Skinner: Zito, you're sick.  Turn yourself in, I promise no one will hurt you.  You can trust me -- I want to help.
    • Zito: Help me?  How, doctor?  More therapy, perhaps?  Endless questions...probing...Try and imagine what it's like to have somebody poke their grubby fingers into the secret corners of your mind, making you face your nightmares, over and over.  Maybe then you'll understand how much I loathe and despise you.
    • It's good this part was cut because it undermines Zito's lesson in evil, that he's attacking the doctor (and the only person who would help him) for no other reason than his evil nature.
  • There was a discussion in my original Lesson in Evil post and in the comments about why MacGyver trips the trigger after seemingly solving the riddle -- does he do it on purpose?  After reading the script, it's clear the answer is yes.  With one leg on safe ground, MacGyver sets the other foot onto the rigged plank...He jumps back as the Bell CRASHES into the rail.  He'd have been decapitated had he gone for the gun!  So the idea is that even though MacGyver knows what's coming when he sets off the trap, he still gets knocked down by the force of the bell.
See my main MacGyver page for links to my other Script Analyses.  I recently got another script, so there will definitely be a 9th installment in the Script Analyses series!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Marty Sklar (1934-2017): A Tribute

Marty Sklar passed away today, and I'm very saddened to hear that.  I was fortunate enough to meet Marty in his home just three months ago, and I'd like to share my impressions of him.  If you're not familiar with the Disney universe, you may not know who he is, but suffice it to say he was one of the all-time Disney Legends.  While still in college, he started working at Disneyland when it opened in 1955 and soon became Walt's go-to guy.  Eventually he made it to Executive Vice President where he ran Disney Imagineering and the theme parks.  Despite retiring from Disney, he kept busy with writing books and appearing on the Disney convention/speaker circuit.

I reached out to him back in December of 2015 and asked if he would do a podcast with my Dad and I about his second book, One Little Spark, and I was surprised when he said yes.  Here's a link to the podcast -- it was one of my favorites that I've done, especially since my Dad was involved, and it was really fun to talk to him.

Fast forward to the end of this past April when I took a trip to Los Angeles.  I reached out to Marty and asked if it would be all right if I stopped by to say hello, and once again I was surprised that he said yes.  I'm always grateful when anyone who I contact for this blog agrees to talk to me let alone meet with me.  I don't take it personally when people decline since it's understandable why someone wouldn't want to talk with some random, unknown guy from "the internet".  But just like Stephen Downing (producer of MacGyver), Marty said, "Sure, come on by."

It was about 3:30 PM and I had driven about an hour from Long Beach (where I met Downing in the morning) to Hollywood, and I was fortunate to not hit any bad L.A. traffic (although sometimes the heavy traffic seems preferable to everyone driving 100 miles an hour like it's a Fast and the Furious movie).  I wound my way through the twists and turns of the Hollywood Hills and eventually made it to Marty's house.  I pulled into the driveway and saw him standing by the door waiting for me.

I went inside and he showed me his office which was enormous, a giant room square that I'm guessing was at least 20 feet by 20 feet if not bigger.  As you might imagine, it was overflowing with Disney memorabilia. From there, we moved to a sitting area next to a wine bar where he offered me a drink.  We sat on cushioned benches perpendicular to each other and talked until about 5:00, at which point he was going out to dinner in Hollywood to celebrate his daughter's birthday.

In today's world, it's easy for us to form opinions of people we've never met based on what we see, hear, or read about them, but you can't ever really know what a celebrity is like based upon their public persona.  And while I certainly don't know exactly what kind of person Marty was based on just 90 minutes together, I did feel like I got a good sense of him from our meeting. And that sense was that he was a good man, kind and gentle, and he was very non-threatening and easy to talk to.  And I could tell that he was very smart and still mentally sharp as a tack.

We talked about all kinds of things.  My goal was not to interview him or try and get any information out of him -- I just wanted to have a nice, relaxed conversation, and that's exactly what we had.  I learned that he was a big tennis fan and went to the Indian Wells ATP tournament every year.  Of course we talked about Disney, and he told me that he was working on a third book.  I signed my book for him, and he signed his books for me, and we talked about doing another podcast when his third book came out.  And with that, we took a selfie (pictured above), shook hands, and I drove away.

I hope this post helps to humanize him for those who didn't know much about him. I'm grateful for the opportunity to have those 90 minutes with him, and I wish his family the best as they mourn his passing.