Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

The latest installment of the Mission Impossible franchise began with action, and seemingly didn’t stop for the first two-thirds of the film. Helmed by first time live action director, Brad Bird, Tom Cruise and company barely stop to catch their collective breaths before one action sequence ends and the next set piece begins. It’s almost as if the unstated formula for M:I – Ghost Protocol was to swap out the famous Cruise charisma which in the previous films, seemed almost as important as what he was doing , and replacing it mainly with pursuits in cars, chases on foot, fights, explosions, guns, computer magic, and other assorted action with far less emphasis on the star himself.

This is an older and more mature Cruise as Ethan Hunt. He’ll still flash that familiar high wattage smile – except this time around, it’s infrequently displayed and with decidedly less impact. Other members of this IMF include Paula Patton who is on board as the potent and sexy sidekick Jane. Simon Pegg is Benji Dunn, the technical wizard who mans the computer and also dispenses wise cracks in what seems like clockwork work fashion – one smart ass remark every fifteen minutes.

The new boy in town is Jeremy Renner who joins the team about a quarter of the way in. He’s introduced as Brandt, an analyst on the MI payroll. Introducing him is Tom Wilkinson in an un-credited role as the erstwhile unseen Secretary who as we all know, will offer Cruise and Co a mission with the provision that if it goes bad – all together now – the secretary will disavow any knowledge of the IM force.

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Two Ladies for the History Books

Merry Christmas!

This is just a brief post about looking ahead. I’m scheduled to depart the balmy weather here in Sarasota, Florida in a few days on the 29th. I’m heading up to the far more winter-ish climate in North Central Connecticut, and will stay there until January 3rd. I’ll spend the New Years’ break taking in a few films.

So, in effect, this post is first about my plan to spend  the New Year’s holiday at the movies, then second, two films in the New Year that I’m looking forward to seeing.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to figure out that we will be seeing  the film adaption of the John Le Carre novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Spielberg’s War Horse, and the latest installment of the Mission:Impossible franchise: Ghost Protocol.  In short  – one film to make one think, another to warm the heart, and third to get your testosterone flowing.

As for early next year – I’m looking forward to watching two bio-films about a pair of famous women. These women have made their mark, not only in their own countries, but also on the world’s stage.  Long after they’ve departed, our children’s children will see and read about them in their history books.

Margaret Thatcher and Aung San Suu Kyi are the subjects.

Thatcher entered the UK’s political arena in the 1950’s but it took her a while to finally win an election. Finally she won and in 1959 she became a member of Parliament. From 1979 to 1990 she was the Prime Minister of her country.

Known for her strict conservative policies, Thatcher took on labor unions on the home front and the Soviet Union in a rhetorical battle. She actually led her country into conflict with the Falkland [Islands] War in 1982.

Because of her toughness,  Thatcher will be forever remembered as The Iron Lady. The bio film (The Iron Lady) has Meryl Streep starring as Thatcher.

Streep has long been considered as one of the world’s most popular and talented actresses. The Iron Lady will open in Los Angeles and New York on December 30th, and will have a wide distribution scheduled for January 13th, 2012 in the USA.

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We Bought a Zoo

It is the end of the year and this is the time when Hollywood reasons it is the right time for them to trot out their expected big money makers. As for me, I needed a film that was light, heartfelt, and one with basically a ‘feel good’ kind of essence to it. We Bought a Zoo turned out to be very entertaining and more than filled the bill. One could call it the perfect family film for the holidays, only it doesn’t have even a hint of Christmas from first frame to last. Nor is it a perfect film.

So after The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which I saw a couple of days ago, watching a film without any murders was quite comforting, and hearing Neil Young croon Cinnamon Girl on the ‘Zoo’ soundtrack was a nice surprise. Director Cameron Crowe is showing his age with the choice of that song. Then again so am I.

The story is rock solid simple. A guy in his early 40’s, Benjamin Mee, played by Matt Damon is grieving over his wife’s death. He’s got a 14-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter (Maggie Elizabeth Jones plays Rosie who steals every scene she’s in). While the daughter hums along nicely, we know that she’s going to miss her Mom.

Mee: Rosie, am I doin' anything right? / Rosie: Well you're handsome, and you got more hair than some of the other Dads - so that's good.

The son, Dylan Mee played by Colin Ford, on the other hand, is a mess. He’s a four-time loser at school (three suspensions followed by being expelled). So Benjamin quits his job as an adventure writer for a newspaper and decides that for the family to heal, he’ll need to get them out of the city (L.A.) because everywhere they go, they’re reminded of Mom.

They don’t like anything of what they’ve been shown in a new house in a new neighborhood, until their newbie real estate agent drives them so far out of the city that it is 9 miles from the nearest place to go food shopping. This is of course – THE ZOO!

Real Estate Agent: It's complicated / Mee: What's so complicated about this place?

Agent to Mee: It's a zoo !

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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – A Review/Discussion

Didion: There are two kinds of movies in the theaters right now: the highbrow ones seeking out Oscar nods, and the heartwarming Christmas ones.Then there’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. In one early scene, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) greets Mikael (Daniel Craig) while wearing a t-shirt that says, FUCK YOU, YOU FUCKING FUCK.So with that in mind, perhaps you won’t be surprised that Didion ♡ GWTDT. The real question is, how did our friend JustMeMike feel about it?

JMM: Like you, I find Lisbeth compelling. At the same time, I’m a bit scared of her. She is fierce, as was Noomi Rapace in the same role. That comes from knowing what she’s capable of.

But while Lisbeth has that don’t fuck with me attitude, much of the time, she appears to be drawing herself back in, like a turtle might do.

Didion,  I knew you would be all over this one, which was probably why we agreed to do a joint review/discussion on this film all the way back in September, knowing it would be released just before Christmas.

To set some background, let’s briefly discuss how we independently came to the Stieg Larsson books and films.

I kind of fell into them by accident. In early November of 2010, I somehow lost the book I was reading in Riomaggiore – in Italy’s Cinque Terre area. The next day, back in Milan, I went to the American Bookstore to buy another copy of Nelson DeMille’s The Lion. Only they didn’t have it. The lady who ran the shop asked if I had read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I hadn’t, so I took her advice. Within the following six weeks , I’d read all three books, and have since seen all three of the Swedish language films made from the books about seven times. So I was very eager to see this brand new version directed by David Fincher. How about you?

Didion: I’d never even heard of them when one of my best friends sent me a copy back during maybe February of 2009 — she’d read it while in Europe, long before it was released in the US, and knew that we shared a penchant for Scandinavian crime stuff. We now share an unholy love of Lisbeth Salander, one of the most unexpected and great heroines of recent history.

JMM: So your friend read it while in Europe just like me. I left my copy in an apartment in Bellagio when I was done, swapping it out for a Michael Connelly book. But back to the present. I saw the 7:00 PM show on Tuesday night. This was the opening night in Sarasota. The theater was about 90% filled. When did you see it and how was the crowd?

Didion: Just the opposite! We raced to the theater on Wednesday the 21st for the 7:30pm show, and when we walked into the theater 15 minutes early there was one guy — ONE! — who’d beaten us. By the time the film started there were maybe 12 or 15 people in a theater that probably holds 300. (Let me say: this was a very happy 12 people.)

JMM: My brother even sent me a survey a few days ago that stated that 75% of the women that were asked said they weren’t eager to see the film. Well then, there are reasons for that which we might explore later. Let’s look at a few headline reactions from some well known or outspoken critics before we get into the particulars. Roger Ebert wrote, “Hey girl, that’s a cool dragon tattoo”. A.O.Scott, wrote for the New York Times “Tattooed Heroine Metes Out Slick, Punitive Violence”. Kenneth Turan for the LA Times wrote, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is too frigid.” One more – Kyle Smith for the New York Post called the film, “Rubbish”. So Didion, do you have a headline in mind?

Didion: How about, The Perfect, Laconic, Tattooed Heroine For Our Sins. First reactions: Rooney Mara was terrific and made this part her own; David Fincher teaches all filmmakers a lesson here in how to translate a sprawling book for the screen; and the scenery was spectacular. I’ve got some quibbles, but on the whole I was entranced. I don’t know what Smith & Turan are talking about.

I’m the worst of all possible viewers: I know the books really well; I loved the first Swedish film; I thought Noomi Rapace was amazing in the role. Mara and Fincher were really going to have to knock my socks off to please me. (My socks: knocked off.) Now I’m thinking that the Swedish film will pale in comparison when I see it again.How about you? First reactions?

JMM: Worst possible viewer? I would think just the opposite about you. Your experience would be an asset. At least that’s how I read Fincher’s intentions. My first reaction or headline? Loved It But Not More Than the Original.

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Winter Anyone? Have a Look at Nankyoku Tairiku

December 22nd is the first day of winter …

Yeah, storms are on the way.  They’re heading east after spreading their usual havoc over the Plains states of the US yesterday. Down here in Sarasota, FL – I’m not worried about snow. But I am traveling to the Northeast in 9 days, so snow is on my mind.

It’s one thing to travel up to Connecticut for the New Year holiday. But would you sign on to visit Antarctica? Thought not. But exploring Antarctica is what a team of Japanese explorers did back in the mid 1950″s. The Tokyo Broadcast System (TBS) just concluded a 10 episode series this past Sunday (Dec. 18th) about that trip. This series, called Nankyoku Tairiku was produced to celebrate the 60th anniversary of TBS and was their most expensive project ever.

Nankyoko Tairiku means Antarctica in Japanese. The series full title – Nankyoku Tairiku ~ Kami no Ryouiki ni Idomunda Otoko to Inu no Monogatari translated to English is Antarctica: The Story of Dogs and Men Who Challenged the Field of God.

In 1956, Japan was still in what was called the Post War Era. The nation was still struggling and when an international scientific organization set up an exploration of Antarctica, Japan applied but was initially rejected. After a lot of bowing, scraping, and begging – Japan was finally allowed to participate. But the territory that Japan was assigned was considered inaccessible.

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What Women Want (2011)

First we will set the stage. We are in Beijing, China, the time is present day, and most of the action will take place in and around a top-tier ad agency. Andy Lau plays Zi Gang Sun, an ad executive who is on a seemingly terrific career path.

He’s not only an eligible bachelor, but he revels in it. He’s unofficially – the hottest guy in the office. He’s also a male chauvinist, and his skill is in selling products to men. Girls working there fawn all over him, that is when they’re not flirting with him, or creating scenarios where they can bump into him.

On his way to the office one day – he meets a beautiful woman in the elevator. He offers to buy her a coffee, and she says she only drinks water. You can see the attraction. His for her is written all over his face, and she’s intrigued too, only she’s not so outgoing about it that you can easily tell what she’s thinking. She is Li Yu-long and she’s played by Gong Li. Lau’s Mr. Sun doesn’t know it, but she’s just been hired by his firm to become the Executive Creative Director of the firm – a position that he thought he would be promoted into that day.

After his boss, the firm’s CEO’s broke the news to him that Li got the job instead of him, he heads back to his office, where his staff had a surprise party set up for him – a celebration on his promotion. That he didn’t get. He dismisses them. Sorry guys, not today. Maybe sometime in the future.

The next morning, there’s a big meeting scheduled in the conference room to introduce this Li. Sun makes a bet with one of his buddies, that this Li, whoever she is, will look like a man. Soon after Li walks in and sits down. Sun goes over to chat her up.  He still hasn’t a clue as to who she is. He only knows that she is the woman from the elevator from yesterday. “Oh – you also work here?‘, he says, amping up the wattage of his smile.

When Li takes off her glasses, Sun says, “You look good without your glasses.”

She replies, “You also look good … without my glasses.”

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Young Adult

She’s the girl you hated in high school – and she’s back. The local people get the word that she’s back, and so, when they talk about her, they call her the Ex-Prom Queen with the additional qualifier of ‘Bitch’. Yeah, she’s returned to her hometown and she wants her old flame back. Only he’s a HMWAK – which stands for Happily Married with a Kid. Sounds like trouble has arrived in Mercury, Minnesota.

The film is called Young Adult. It stars the Oscar-winning Charlize Theron, and was directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody. These two were paired up as Director and Writer in the 2007 film – Juno.

Charlize has the role of Mavis Gary, a ghostwriter of romance fiction for teen girls or should I say YA’s, which if you connect this to the title of the film, you get Young Adults. While she’s kind of successful in that field, she hasn’t quite reached an income level that could mean she could shop on Rodeo Drive, or have an apartment on Central Park West in New York. Instead, Mavis lives in a modest Minneapolis apartment with ‘Modest’ being an overstatement. However to Mavis, this was a far better situation than if she was stuck back in the old hometown

The thing about Mavis is that she can’t see beyond her own image. Beauty worked for her in high school. She was the prom queen, she dated the school’s football hero, and in her mind – the sea was required to part if she showed up on its shore.

Mavis was the kind of woman who steamrolled through life – she either overwhelmed you because she was just sooo important, or she never saw you, like you weren’t important, or attractive enough to even be noticed, considered, or thought about. What a gal. She was always right – and you were always wrong. So moments in – we can conclude that this is a one-of-a-kind of a self-centered woman. They broke the mold after she was created.  Mavis thought she was a woman born to run, as in run through life always having everything her way. Only for the rest of us – she was a woman who was born to be hated.

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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Sherlock Holmes 2 opened today. The full title is Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. While I won’t call this one a flop – disappointing comes to mind. Everything we loved about Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) & Dr. Watson (Jude Law) in the 2009 film – seems a tad stale when we see it yet again.

It’s all there – the banter, the stop-action aka slow-fast-slow action sequences, the gritty and sooty London, Irene Adler (briefly), Inspector Lestrade (he’s there but not so you’d notice) and Holmes’ keen eye (I see everything!, he tell us), plus the mandatory arch villain.

What’s not there is a lot of laughs.

The plot is the hackneyed ‘war profiteering’. Yes, Professor Moriarty is reduced to this banality. But it does take a while for him to tell us as much. Which leaves plenty of time for Holmes and Watson to travel from London to Dover where they board a steamer to cross the channel, then on to Paris, and ultimately Switzerland.

Along the way, Irene Adler, who once again is played by Rachel McAdams (above), comes and goes. Paving the way for Noomi Rapace to enter as the gypsy woman, Madam Simza, a role which garnered her lots of screen time, a few movie posters, and third billing behind only Downey and Law. But sadly, she was far more interesting as Lisbeth Salander.  As Simza, Noomi displayed a fabulous appearance but with a decidedly small range of facial expressions.

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Roadie

We’ve all heard the terms “Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘N Roll”. Depending on when you grew up, maybe you were too old when those terms were in vogue. You already had a wife, a home, a mortgage and two kids. Or you were too young. But what if the timing was just right?

Such is the story of the lead character in Roadie, a film scheduled for release next month. It will open in one Manhattan theater on January 6th, and then a second theater in Huntington, NY (where I grew up) on January 20th. So I gather that this film won’t be going into a wide theatrical release. At least not yet.

But speaking of a wide release right now, Roadie is being offered by your local cable company in what they call – On Demand. So in that sense, it is available to most of you as we speak.

The film has a couple of taglines which will basically give you the essence of the film:

You Really Can’t Go Home Again
It Was Fun While it Lasted

So Roadie is about a guy who has worked for a rock & roll band that was once a major name in the music biz. We all know them – Blue Oyster Cult. Jimmy Testagross (played marvelously by Ron Eldard) has been working for the band for 25 years, in countries all over the globe. He’s been a Roadie – carrying the equipment and then setting it up in stadiums, music venues, concert halls, or even small clubs. Then one day, he is fired.

He’s done just that one thing for his whole adult life – and now that he’s in his 40’s – he has to figure out what can he do with his future which is starting right now. But for the moment, he is angry and lost, or lost and angry – the order isn’t important. He’s just facing an emptiness. He has no plans, no goals, and most of all, he has no place he has to be; which for him is the hardest fact of all.

As the Jackson Browne song, The Load Out, reminds us:

Now the seats are all empty
Let the roadies take the stage
Pack it up and tear it down
They’re the first to come and last to leave

Yeah, so Jimmie T who lived the life of a Roadie, so eloquently described by Jackson Brown, is facing the rest of his life and he hasn’t a clue about what comes next.

Directed by Michael Cuesta, this is a small film. The entire arc of the film is about 48 hours. He’s fired, he heads home to Queens, NY. He meets his old nemesis from high school, Randy Stevens, played by Bobby Cannavale. And of course he finds his old girl friend Nikki. She’s played by Jill Hennessy.

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