Tag Archives: Maggie Q

Mission: Impossible III (2006, J.J. Abrams)

After two asinine outings, Tom Cruise finally figured out how to get a Mission: Impossible to work. There’s an actual story–the viewer’s engagement with the plot doesn’t revolve around one’s appreciation of Tom Cruise and his frequent grin. The difference is in Cruise himself. He’s no longer charming the women aged twelve to fifty-two in the audience, he’s widened his scope–he’s trying to present an affable lead… to everyone. It’s amazing how little the film needs to engender some real concern for the character. Give him a girlfriend, a pre-exisiting girlfriend–does wonders. Throw in Ving Rhames putting his foot in his mouth while talking about the girlfriend. Rhames and Cruise, after two chemistry-free occasions, finally work well together. They’re finally believable as friends… or friendly acquaintances. Again, all seems to be Cruise.

There’s the other development–a personable team. Maggie Q and Jonathan Rhys Meyers don’t exactly have a major part in the film, but there’s a definite sense they work together and know each other. It’s a very welcome feel, since Mission: Impossible kind of suggests them having a team. It changes the kinds of stunts Cruise gets to do–he still gets to run a lot and there’s a motorcycle sequence–but having to involve his teammates… I don’t know if it makes Mission: Impossible III more possible (there’s a lot of silliness, down to the secret underground base), but it makes the concept a little easier on the senses. Instead of whacking the viewer’s cognitive reasoning centers with a two by four, it’s a more acceptable amount of disbelief the film’s requesting suspended.

J.J. Abrams and crew present a rather simple spy plot–it’d work, easily, for a James Bond, a Lethal Weapon or even a Die Hard (all, obviously, with significant changes)–and do it well. It doesn’t really matter if this one’s a sequel to the other two Mission: Impossible movies. It’s a spy getting married movie, they’ve made these for a long time. Cruise works–and works quite well with love interest Michelle Monaghan. Monaghan and Cruise have a really great scene–one where Abrams’s directorial abilities come through–and Monaghan’s just too good for this kind of material… and she can even pretend she doesn’t know it.

Cruise assembled a great supporting cast–Laurence Fishburne (in the kind of role he should have been doing for years), Billy Crudup, Simon Pegg and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman should have been playing the cooly evil villain for years–he excels at it. The scenes where he’s playing Tom Cruise playing Philip Seymour Hoffman are comic gems.

It isn’t just Abram’s story–he put together a great crew. Daniel Mindel’s a fine cinematographer–Mission: Impossible III has a bunch of CG composites and the lighting is never off, which is a not insignificant achievement. The music–by Michael Giacchino–is fantastic. It’s never bombastic (like a composer I’ve actually heard of) and occasionally feels like cheap TV music–a perfect match for Mission: Impossible.

Given the first two movies, it’s hard to believe III even has a chance. But, almost immediately, it’s a fine diversion. It just gets better throughout, even pulling a couple nice saves throughout (especially at the end).

Abrams is an impressive feature director.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by J.J. Abrams; screenplay by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Abrams, based on the television series created by Bruce Geller; director of photography, Daniel Mindel; edited by Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, Scott Chambliss; produced by Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Owen Davian), Ving Rhames (Luther), Billy Crudup (Musgrave), Michelle Monaghan (Julia), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Declan), Keri Russell (Lindsey Farris), Maggie Q (Zhen), Simon Pegg (Benji), Eddie Marsan (Brownway) and Laurence Fishburne (Theodore Brassel).


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Deception (2008, Marcel Langenegger)

Here’s a surprising one. I was ready to say director Langenegger was a music video director who learned how to calm it down for a theatrical, but it appears he’s just a commercial director. For most of Deception, I was just letting myself enjoy the technical. Langenegger’s composition, Dante Spinotti’s photography and Ramin Djawadi’s music (Djawadi is an essential for the formula) made Deception one of the better looking modern films I can remember, certainly coming out of an American studio. Langenegger takes traditional montage techniques and applies them to regular scenes and makes everything work. Oh, the sound–great sound design.

The story’s pretty simple. First it’s Fight Club only with a sex club, then it’s conned protagonist unraveling the web movie. Mark Bomback’s script is middling, with the occasional bad dialogue exchange. The beauty of Deception is how little the script matters, given Langenegger’s direction.

But the direction apparently did not extend to the hiring of Ewan McGregor’s dialect couch. McGregor’s American accent in this one sounds like Woody Allen. Really. I kept waiting, in the first half, for there to be some reason for it to sound like Woody Allen, as it’s set in New York (and beautifully shot there). But there’s no reason. McGregor being good, he manages not to let the accent get in the way of his performance. It doesn’t hurt the supporting cast is uniformly excellent. I suppose Charlotte Rampling has the largest of the smaller roles, but even Margaret Colin, in her minute and a half, lends the film some really acting credibility. The direction, these smaller roles, they give Deception a credibility the general lameness (it’s all been done before) of the script saps. Not to mention McGregor’s goofy accent.

For the majority of the film, the three other principals are solid as well. Hugh Jackman toggles nicely between creepy and charming. Michelle Williams is fine as the object of McGregor’s affections. Lisa Gay Hamilton is good as the police detective.

Then the film enters the third act and everything changes, not so much for the story, it’s a natural narrative development, but what the film achieves. The end finally incorporates the actors into that filmmaking euphoria and Deception skyrockets (Williams is fantastic). Bomback doesn’t even go for the cheap ending, which I’d been expecting the whole time too.

Good acting and good filmmaking will often improve a weak script, but, comparative to what Deception was achieving (being a diverting lower budget studio thriller) to what it finally does achieve… I think Henry Fool‘s the last one with such a bump. Fool‘s was a far higher boost, but–as a lower budget studio thriller–Deception‘s is no less significant, given its ambitions.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Marcel Langenegger; written by Mark Bomback; director of photography, Dante Spinotti; edited by Christian Wagner and Douglas Crise; music by Ramin Djawadi; production designer, Patrizia von Brandenstein; produced by Arnold Rifkin, John Palermo, Hugh Jackman, Robbie Brenner, David Bushell and Christopher Eberts; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Wyatt Bose), Ewan McGregor (Jonathan McQuarry), Michelle Williams (S), Lisa Gay Hamilton (Detective Russo), Maggie Q (Tina), Natasha Henstridge (Wall Street Analyst), Lynn Cohen (Woman), Danny Burstein (Clute Controller), Malcolm Goodwin (Cabbie), Dante Spinotti (Herr Kleiner/Mr. Moretti), Bill Camp (Clancey Controller), Lisa Kron (Receptionist), Margaret Colin (Ms. Pomerantz) and Charlotte Rampling (Wall Street Belle).


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Live Free or Die Hard (2007, Len Wiseman)

Remember the “Simpsons” episode where Bart watches ‘Die Hard’ jump out the window? Live Free or Die Hard–the title, incidentally, has nothing to do with the film’s content–is the first one where I expected McClane’s nickname to be ‘Die Hard.’ They come close in terms of self-reference….

Still, as a Die Hard movie, it’s about as good as a Die Hard movie featuring Bruce Willis versus a fighter jet is going to get. It’s really well cast, which carries a lot of the film. Much like the third one, it follows the short codas of the first two–which are fine for those (i.e. with Bonnie Bedelia–has everyone else forgotten the first two Die Hard movies are like a Thin Man on angel dust?)–but the movie doesn’t have a closed narrative. It has a fake ending, not going on long enough. The immediate action is resolved, then it just stops.

That good casting is necessary–and Len Wiseman’s enthusiastic direction is helpful–because the writing is terrible. Willis has some good lines and he and Justin Long have some good scenes, but it’s incredibly stupid. The Die Hard movies kept their predicaments small and manageable–even the third one kept it within reason–but Live Free is crazy big: it’s the end of the world as we know it (something left unresolved).

For half the movie, I felt like the script came from John Carpenter’s unmade Escape from Earth.

It isn’t just the dumb ideas, but a lot of the setups. McClane’s stalking his daughter in this one, which makes little sense (especially since the image of him alone, his heroism costing him everything–conjured by a discussion–is so much more striking). Luckily, there’s a lot of decently executed action. Die Hard movies always create an aura of reality, usually because of Willis’s performance and the production design–and he makes the unbelievable Live Free palatable.

As a director, Wiseman has no personality, but he incorporates CG well enough. As a Die Hard movie with CG, which means it’s fundamentally broken but it is what it is and it’s fine.

Cliff Curtis, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Timothy Olyphant are all fine. Curtis is sturdy, Winstead is fiesty and Olyphant is hissable (if a little foppish).

As for McClane versus the fighter jet… it’s the kind of ‘too much’ even Willis can’t ground. Combined with that flimsy ending… There’s also the issue of Wiseman’s blue filters, which I won’t expand on, since I want to end on a high note:

Live Free or Die Hard isn’t the best it could be, but it’s far from the worst. It’s fine.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Len Wiseman; written by Mark Bomback, based on a story by Bomback and David Marconi; director of photography, Simon Duggan; edited by Nicolas de Toth; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Patrick Tatopoulos; produced by Michael Fottrell; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Bruce Willis (John McClane), Timothy Olyphant (Thomas Gabriel), Justin Long (Matt Farrell), Cliff Curtis (Bowman), Maggie Q (Mai) and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Lucy McClane).


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