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Posts tagged “prison

Escape Plan (2013)

Escape PlanStallone and Schwarzenegger finally teaming up in a big action movie should be a major event, and Escape Plan seemed like it had that potential from the trailer and the general premise.  In the right hands, this could have been forged into a highly entertaining and exciting film.  Unfortunately, at no fault of Stallone or Schwarzenegger, Escape Plan falters in a lot of ways stemming from the fact that it’s backed by a director, screenwriters, editor, and cinematographer that really have nothing of good, special note to their credits, and that really shows.

Ray Breslin (Sulvester Stallone) is the world’s foremost authority on structural security. After analyzing every high security prison and learning a vast array of survival skills so he can design escape-proof prisons, his skills are put to the test. A new, shady job to test out a CIA prison facility goes awry when he is abducted and incarcerated in a master prison designed based on his analytical work.  Once inside, he finds an ally in fellow inmate Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who agrees to help him find a way out.  Now, Breslin needs to escape and find the person who put him behind bars.

This is not a bad movie, but it has a number of obvious flaws that prevent it from really capitalizing on its assets.  Escape Plan’s problems really begin with the screenplay.  I don’t think this movie is very well written, let alone well executed.  Firstly, the film becomes so pre-occupied over and over again with showcasing Ray Breslin’s long-winded analyses and exposition of his elaborate escape plan scenarios that it sucks up valuable, extensive screentime for it.  Screentime that could have been used to actually establish and develop some characters and personalities in this movie.  A good screenwriter could have deconstructed these moments far better and streamlined them for a much snappier, more succinct narrative.  Instead, screenwriters Miles Chapman and Jason Keller decide to overcomplicate matters to the detriment of the film.  For a while it seemed like Schwarzenegger’s character was merely there to give Stallone someone to dump exposition upon because it was so bluntly handled, and it doesn’t progress too far beyond that.  Anyone who has read my reviews before knows how in-depth I go into performances and characters, but there is really next to nothing to comment on about these performances.  It’s not a fault of the actors, but the material they are given.

I own a good thirty movies starring Stallone and/or Schwarzenegger with Rocky III and Predator being my respective favorites of theirs.  I’ve seen them in great movies and bad movies, but they’ve always delivered on their exceptional charismatic screen presences.  Here, there’s just extremely little material for them to inject any charisma into because it is so entrenched in exposition.  There are one or two sparks of fun chemistry between them, but it’s very fleeting when that’s exactly what should have been here in abundance.  What depth of character we get is merely a few lines of dialogue talking about a single aspect of their back stories, which is just more exposition and doesn’t give us much of a personality to grasp onto.  There’s more gained from Breslin than Rottmayer, but it’s very marginal.  The fact of the matter is that the script is very flat and unimaginative.  If Stallone and Schwarzenegger were not cast in this movie, I don’t think I’d care to maintain any attention on Breslin or Rottmayer at all because the screenwriters do nothing to actually create any characters to care about.

However, even if the characters aren’t all that interesting or dimensional like Marion Cobretti or John Matrix, if the film they are placed into is exciting and entertaining enough with clever, sharp dialogue, it can still work and bring out the better qualities of the actor.  Unfortunately, while Escape Plan maintains a solid pacing that doesn’t make it feel like a nearly two hour long movie, the action is very minimal.  There are some prison riots, a few beat downs, and an attempted prison break or two, but in terms of straight up action like shootouts and fights with the villains, there’s very little until the climax.  The film was a decent, easy watch, but never did anything ever come out and blow me away.  There are even points in time where it seemed like it was edging towards something purely awesome, but then, it comes up quite short.  So many things factor into that including some poorly structured and executed sequences.

To that point, the editing in many cases is very incoherent.  The prime examples are that there are montages of sorts showing Breslin getting tortured, or simply showing his plans going into motion.  These sequences are so sloppily edited that I couldn’t understand the narrative or linear flow through them at all.  They’re a real mess of chronology that was quite confusing.  Tying into that is the flat, bland direction that really never gives life to the proceedings of the plot.  Intercutting between The Tomb and Breslin’s team throughout the second act just felt clunky and uneven.  There’s little coherency or urgency put into what Breslin’s team is doing to give a crap about them.  They ultimately don’t do crap until the last three minutes of the movie, anyway.  And those characters are poorly conceived and flatly written to be either very obvious or simply not worth devoting your attention or interest in.  Again, the actors aren’t bad, they just have crap to work with.  Scenes are just strung together very haphazardly giving you a lack of context, narrative flow, or natural segues.  While I’m certain that a better editor couldn’t have radically improved this movie, it at least would have made it far more coherent and smoother.

Now, the only real shining quality of this movie, which is also the one person who seems to be having a delightfully fun time, is Jim Caviezel.  His villain of Warden Hobbs is very charismatic, smarmy, and particularly sadistic, but Caviezel avoids going over the top.  He keeps it low key and fairly subtle while still delivering an especially enjoyable adversary.  He definitely was putting his full commitment into this role, and he embraces it with plenty of imagination and zeal.  I love the little nuances he adds to Hobbs such as being very meticulous in his appearance and manner.  Caviezel is an actor I really like I lot from The Count of Monté Cristo to Outlander to Person of Interest, and seeing him as a villain here is wonderfully entertaining.  He made the movie particularly enjoyable, and Vinnie Jones does quite a charismatic job as Hobbs’ right hand man Drake.  There’s also an unexpected appearance by Sam Neill as the prison doctor.  He also does a fine job with what little he is given to do.  It’s clearly another case of having an actor I really like making the role any bit enjoyable or interesting for me.

Escape Plan attempts to have some semblances of plot twists or turns, but some are so obviously telegraphed or simply amount to nothing that you wonder what the point was.  I believe to have a good movie you really have to start with a good script, and this movie didn’t have one.  Even then, this film needed a far better, more talented director to maximize its potential.  If you handed this project over to a highly experienced action director like Renny Harlin, John McTiernan, Walter Hill, or, if he were still alive, George P. Cosmatos, I think this could have had some potential for success.  They would have molded and refined the story and given it the competency and life it needed.  They also would have tailored the script to the strengths of it leads so that charisma and personality could have lived and thrived on screen.  Alas, we are left with the movie we have, which is probably good for a rental, but not much better.  There’s no need to see Escape Plan on the big screen, unfortunately.


The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)

The Chronicles of RiddickYou don’t know how excited I was to watch this movie again, and then, wonder to myself why in the HELL haven’t I watched this frequently over the years.  Of course, I speak of the director’s cut which I feel is a vastly superior and richer story.  From every fan I’ve heard from, they are hardcore about Pitch Black, but not so much about this one.  I am really more the reverse.  The more expansive science fiction epic traveling to various unique worlds, and facing multiple dangers with colorful characters is right in my cinematic sweet spot.

After years of outrunning ruthless bounty hunters, escaped convict Riddick (Vin Diesel) suddenly finds himself caught between opposing forces in a fight for the future of all races.  An army of fearsome world ravagers known as Necromongers are “cleansing” and forcibly converting other species in their goal of universal conquest, but Imam (Keith David) and the Elemental Ambassador Aereon (Judi Dench) believe Riddick holds the key to a prophecy that could bring down Necromonger Lord Marshal (Colm Feore).  Now, waging incredible battles on fantastic and deadly worlds, this lone, reluctant hero will emerge as a champion, and the last hope for a universe on the edge of annihilation.

Vin Diesel and David Twohy really develop the character of Riddick further and in more depth.  There’s more emotional texture on the surface now, especially when conversing with Imam.  I absolutely love how this film expands this character without ever betraying what made him fascinating to begin with.  He’s placed into a larger story and a larger world which delves further into who he is, where he came from, and that’s exactly what a sequel should do.  Every bad ass, intriguing quality of him is intact, but circumstances force him to make choices he never thought he’d be faced with.  Diesel does an excellent job stretching Riddick out into this wider universe.  He still carries the air of mystique with him, but there’s more emotional weight and tethers to the character.  The connection with Imam is quite cool, if only for having two of the deepest, smoothest voices in Hollywood trading dialogue, but honestly, these are especially good scenes.  Diesel also gets more dynamic action sequences to shine in, and galvanizes Riddick into a bigger, smarter, more clever bad ass than before.  I also love the light touches of wit and humor that we are given.  Riddick has some clever, fun dialogue making him just as funny as he is threatening and dangerous.

Building upon his character is the relationship with Jack, who now goes by Kyra and portrayed by Alexa Davalos.  She’s grown into a jaded version of Riddick because she feels he abandoned her.  She’s a convicted criminal willing to kill for pleasure or to survive.  Davalos does a very good job in this role making a solid emotional connection with the audience, and shows her physicality is in prime shape.  Some might know her from her three guest appearances on Angel as the electricity powered Gwen Raiden, where she also showed she could throw down.  Davalos is a great successor to this role, and the film pulls no punches in tearing these characters away from Riddick, forcing him to stand more and more on his own.  I like that Kyra and Imam become involved in the Necromonger storyline, albeit in different ways, and so, all threads tie tightly back into the main plot.

The director’s cut absolutely makes this an excellent film.  The theatrical version cuts out the real meat of the Furyan subplot including the character of Shirah who comes to Riddick in visions and unlocks his power as a Furyan.  All of that is rather critical to the entire driving factors of the movie.  It gives motivation and purpose to Riddick and Lord Marshal, and propels them forward with more weight and depth.  Without all of that, the story becomes thinner and more basic.  I remember seeing moments in the trailer from this subplot, and being upset when they didn’t appear when I saw the film theatrically.  This aspect of The Chronicles of Riddick gives depth, purpose, and poignancy to Riddick, and simply makes it a more substantive story that I really, strongly endorse.

There’s also amazing action everywhere in The Chronicles of Riddick.  From the mercs chasing Riddick on the frigid ice world to the race against the scorching, lethal sunrise on the prison planet Crematoria, we get wickedly conceived and executed set pieces.  There’s plenty of violence, especially in the unrated director’s cut, as Riddick really cuts deep into his adversaries, and we get plenty of bang for our buck.  The stunt work is amazing, and the imagination on display is rich and refreshing.  David Twohy creates some very dynamic acrobatic moments that do strain physics, but it fits just fine into the hyper stylized intensity.  He absolutely goes for an expansive scope that stunningly sucked me into the film.  The entire look of the movie is just awesome with excellent cinematography and a brilliant, epic vision from Twohy himself.

The Chronicles of Riddick has a very lavish production design that I could compare to a big Dino De Laurentiis 1980’s science fiction / fantasy epic like Flash Gordon or David Lynch’s Dune.  This really goes all out in detailed costume designs, big sprawling landscapes, and simply elegant sets filled with depth and nuance.  Twohy really went for broke making this an exquisitely high grade production, and I think it immensely pays off at every turn.  Some of the visual effects are exceptional, but there are a number of moments that are quite noticeably less than excellent.  Regardless, the vast, stunning vision of David Twohy is realized impressively, and with stronger resources than what he had on Pitch Black.  The visual effects are a MAJOR upgrade from that movie allowing for Twohy’s vision to thrive on screen.  There might be a green screen effect here or there that could be a notch or two better, and the animals set loose in the Crematoria prison are the most obvious undercooked CGI elements, but the visual effects spectacle is very strong creating a fully realized and enveloping universe.  I thoroughly love every aspect of the look of this film.  It’s what hooked me from the trailers, and it’s what continues to excite me.  And yes, Graeme Revell does return to reprise his themes from the first movie, and does a remarkable job capturing the feel of this more action / adventure-centric sequel.

What I absolutely, deeply love in this film is Nick Chinlund as the bounty hunter Toombs.  He is a massive upgrade in entertainment value over Johns in Pitch Black.  Toombs is a rugged, sleazy, charismatic joy to be had all through his screentime.  He’s an excellent, fun adversary for Riddick.  Chinlund and Diesel have great adversarial chemistry to the point that I had always wanted Toombs to return for a sequel, but you can’t always get what you want.  This role made me an enthusiastic Nick Chinlund fan.

And damn, does Karl Urban not do his best in everything he does?  He’s a hardened, menacing threat as Vaako who schemes against the Lord Marshal to succeed him as leader of the Necromongers.  This might seem like a subplot that is a bit extraneous, but it has strategic impact on the main plot.  And Urban’s strong presence and dramatic weight really helps enhance Vaako and his role in this film.  As I always say, Karl Urban is an actor with a rich depth of talent who never gives anything but his absolute best every time he takes on a role.  He does rock solid, consistent, high quality work, and that has made him a wholehearted favorite of mine since The Lord of the Rings and The Bourne Supremacy.

And it’s odd to speak of the film’s main villain after all of these supporting characters, but Colm Feore is great as the Lord Marshal.  He adds the right balance of militaristic conqueror and haunting specter.  He is a man of supposed ultimate power seeking universal domination, and is fully consumed by his radical faith.  His unwavering mindset makes him immensely dangerous like a barreling down freight train, and Feore has the right eerie quality to sell all of this.  He fills the role just right making him a seemingly insurmountable enemy fueled by these fantastical powers of the Underverse.  He doesn’t have the entertainment value of Toombs, or the fierce intensity of Vaako.  However, he is the dominant presence that none can contend with, but you do get the subtle feeling that, whether it’s Riddick or Vaako, someone is going to take him down by the end.  The climax entirely plays upon that expectation, and executes it in a very clever way.

Pitch Black was the one-off adventure that introduced us to Riddick, and just allowed us a small glimpse into the potential of this character.  The Chronicles of Riddick was clearly the start of a larger, epic story that I have been excited to see continued for nine years.  David Twohy establishes a great, exciting, and vast universe for endless possibilities with this movie.  I love taking a character like Riddick and injecting him into a different kind of film.  So many sequels aren’t a tenth as ambitious as this film strives and succeeds to be.  Many would do the same old thing, playing it safe with audience expectations, but Twohy engages us with Riddick and develops him further in a story that forces that to happen.  It puts Riddick into the bigger picture of the universe, and sets the stage for something even more fascinating and expansive to occur.

With the third film, Riddick, hitting theatres this weekend, it’s great to see another chance being taken here with a franchise of ripe potential.  The Chronicles of Riddick was not profitable upon its theatrical release, and that was a terrible shame.  Twohy and Diesel had well plotted plans for two more films, but would need that larger budget to realize them.  So, I don’t expect Riddick to expand as wondrously and amazingly upon the concepts of this film, but more a fusion of the styles of Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick.  Finding a middle ground between them seems like it could generate success and appeal to fans of both films.  Again, my preference is towards the second film as it just breaks open the universe in a stunning realization of imagination, and is fueled by some great action sequences that have always stuck with me through the years.  The Chronicles of Riddick is greatly exciting, immensely enjoyable, and simply fascinating to see unfold with its fantastical ideas and purposeful spectacle.  If you haven’t been exposed to these films, I strongly encourage you to do so, and I hope that Riddick lives up to the years of anticipation.  Even if it’s smaller scale, I’m greatly pleased to see a solid, imaginative franchise get another chance at success.


Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

The Mission: Impossible movie franchise always seems to find a way to outdo itself.  Generally, I believe they’ve become progressively better films with each sequel, which is not the norm.  In the least, they always happen to trump the big action sequences of the previous film.  I absolutely LOVED the third film through and through.  I felt it was great!  Still, now that we’re at a fourth movie, have the filmmakers been able to keep up this strenuous challenge and succeed?  Well, I surely couldn’t make a full judgment until the very end of the film as there are a few reassuring tags there.  I do have some reservations about this film, but that’s not to say it wasn’t entirely enjoyable and entertaining.

A nuclear extremist known as Cobalt (Michael Nyqvist) seeks to obtain launch codes for Russian nuclear missiles.  He intends to ignite a nuclear war to eliminate the weak from humanity to force the next stage of human evolution.  An IMF operation, ran by Agent Jane Carter (Paula Patton), to intercept those codes goes awry when assassin Sabine Moreau (Léa Seydoux) promptly kills an IMF Agent and steals them for Cobalt.  In response to this, the IMF sends Agent Carter and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) to extract Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) out of a Russian prison so that he can head up the mission to infiltrate the Moscow Kremlin, and locate files which identify Cobalt.  However, everything goes wrong when someone hijacks the team’s communications signal to alert security to their presence, and then, detonates a bomb destroying the Kremlin.  The IMF team is blamed for the bombing as an act of terrorism.  The U.S. President initiates “Ghost Protocol” which disavows the entire IMF, but the IMF Secretary (Tom Wilkinson) gives Hunt an unsanctioned mission to bring down Cobalt along with his team without the aid of back-up.  Incidentally added to Ethan’s team is William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Mr. Secretary’s Chief Analyst who has some personal secrets he must struggle with, and exceptional skills which attract Ethan to question just who Brandt really is.  Ethan Hunt’s team must learn to work together beyond their personal vendettas and internal conflicts to avert nuclear disaster.

Really, my only major scrutiny with this movie is the untapped potential of Jeremy Renner and his character of Brandt.  Renner plays his role exceptionally well hitting all the beats, both obvious and subtle, and he definitely is leading role material.  He surely handles the action requirements with amazing precision and physical sharpness.  My problem is that Brandt seems like a very interesting character to explore that could’ve been used as a more critical element in the story.  More of the plot could have been hung on him in either an internal or external fashion.  I believe a lot of talk leading up to this film was that Renner would be put into a position where he could possibly take over as the lead if Tom Cruise chose to step down from the franchise.  While that was in the back of my mind, it was Renner and the character or Brandt himself that drive this feeling in me.  There appears to be so much more to develop out of Brandt, and make him a more prominent player in the story.  However, that’s not the agenda here.  We get some general mystery about him, and a few moments for Renner to shine.  Still, at the end of the movie, despite obtaining some absolution, he’s still just another member of the team.  It’s not a situation of the filmmakers leaving you wanting more because they don’t give you enough of him in the forefront to whet your appetite.  It’s unutilized potential of the right actor in the right role.  Renner is very capable and quite impressive with everything he presents in this film.  I just wish he was given a chance to standout more instead of exclusively being part of the supporting cast.  Maybe there’s a chance he’ll reappear in a future sequel, but the IMF team mostly changes with every movie.  Still, I have to hope for a better expectation.

That leads me to a small issue.  Ving Rhames’ Luther Stickell is not part of this team.  However, he does have a brief appearance in the film’s final scene which is a nice coda to the adventure, but his rapport with Cruise is rather missed.  It’s always been a highlight of franchise, but in a way, I understand why he was not part of the team.  Part of the story is about a team that’s untested with one another having to find cohesion when they have no back-up and no resources to smooth out their mission.  Putting Ethan and Luther back together would work against that idea and dynamic.  So, I am glad there’s a story driven purpose to his general absence.  Thankfully, Rhames’ single scene is quite funny, and it’s nice that they threw us that bone.

Beyond all that is pristine cinematic action gold.  Like I said, each film finds a way to outdo the action set pieces of the last one.  It’s not just the size of the building they break into, but the tension and various story elements that surround those sequences which enhance them further.  Early in the film, Ethan has to scale the world’s tallest building in Dubai to break into a computer server room, and the electronic suction gloves start malfunctioning, forcing Ethan to slowly abandon the tech for human ability.  It doesn’t even end there as nothing goes along perfectly, and he has to keep improvising when the time comes for an escape.  Ghost Protocol piles on more and more elements to make the peril higher and the tension tighter.  Plus, what I like about this franchise is that action sequences don’t end where they would in other films.  Here, Ethan Hunt finds a way to keep it going.  An on foot chase sequence gets a sandstorm thrown into the mix, and then, it turns into a car chase in a sandstorm.  Mission: Impossible really lives up to its name by pushing the limits of what is possible by forcing its characters to do the extraordinary.

How the team works these operations is also very inventive.  The team has to do what I call a “double fake-out” when trying to intercept the nuclear launch codes between the assassin and the buyer.  They have to divide and conquer by impersonating both sides.  I won’t spoil anything, but I found it to be a very original idea that further re-enforces that this has never been a lazy franchise.  They don’t go the route of any other action film.  They get smart, and work out far more satisfying scenarios which increase the entertainment value and story quality.  There’s plenty of time for the action pay-off later as a cleverly woven plot is something I will always give great credit for.  The plot is well crafted and nicely paced making the action scenes work for the story twists, and allowing the characters’ personalities to drive the action.

I am indeed a Tom Cruise fan.  Risky Business, Top Gun, The Color of Money, Interview With The Vampire, & Collateral are all highlights that I thoroughly enjoy.  Why people are surprised when a Tom Cruise movie is actually good is beyond me.  He has gotten a lot flack for his personal life craziness, but as a professional, he brings it every time.  He is absolutely one of the best actors of his generation, and he has a very solid professional business sense.  He makes great films year after year, decade after decade.  They are blockbuster hits, and modern cinematic gems.  Plus, you can see he pushes himself to the max with these action scenes by performing many of his own stunts.  He indeed did the scaling of the Burj Khalifa Tower himself entirely.  With that precarious height, I thought it would’ve been a green screen effect like when Batman jumped off that Hong Kong skyscraper in The Dark Knight.  Not at all.  Plus, the man can RUN like I’ve never seen anyone do.  When he is running on screen, you believe he is running for dear life with unwavering determination.  Cruise is clearly in incredible shape, and he doesn’t allow himself to slack off in any aspect.  As Ethan Hunt, he keeps bringing more layers to the character, and maintains an emotional continuity that creates a linking thread between every film.  The screenwriters never forgot to touch upon what Ethan has been through and resolve that for Cruise and the fans.  While this entry doesn’t have the deep personal and emotional motivations for Ethan as the previous sequel, Cruise still leads the film with his usual diverse qualities handling all the dramatic, charming, physically intense, and humorous moments with perfect balance.

Now, I surely want to spotlight Josh Holloway’s amazing sequence at the film’s start.  I would definitely love to see a whole film with that amazing, action capable character.  That’s no knock on Ethan Hunt, but seeing what Josh Holloway he does as Agent Hanaway in such a brief appearance really set an amazing tone for the rest of the film.  It was a very exciting and dynamic way to introduce the character.

In comparison with M:I-3, I can only say that this film lacks a strong antagonist.  Philip Seymour Hoffman was such a blockbuster villain as Owen Davian in the previous installment, and would be a hard act to follow.  This time through, the villain of Hendricks is not given much presence in the story.  It’s more focused on the nuclear threat, and the IMF team trying to absolve themselves of their alleged crimes.  That’s not a bad thing at all, and maybe it’s better to change up that dynamic on occasion.  Still, on the villainous front, Léa Seydoux is quite exceptional as the assassin Sabine Moreau.  She has a dangerous presence, and backs that up well in her fight scenes.  Plus, she has a very cool sexiness to her.  Clearly, she’s physically attractive, but as Moreau, she creates en engaging quality with her coldly confident attitude.  She is a top level professional, and has many subtle things going on that create a fully dimensional character with a definite personality and skill set.

And speaking of good women of action, Paula Patton eventually proves to be very solid.  Her character of Jane Carter starts off as a slightly shaky agent due to the awry events at the film’s start.  However, as the film progresses, she comes more into her own, and reasserts control of her wits and confidence.  First, she shows how action capable she is, but later, is able to mix that field savvy with a very strong sexiness.  I’m not saying that such a character requires a sexy edge, but as a man, I happen to notice these things quite prominently.  Simply put, it is a compliment for Ms. Patton and the character she portrays here.

I also want to give very pleasing praise to Anil Kapoor in his suave and charismatic, yet playfully entertaining role as Indian multimedia mogul Brij Nath.  He works opposite Paula in the scene where her assertive sexiness takes form, and the two play off one another so well.  As Nath, Kapoor really takes a relatively minor character, and makes him really standout.  Such an actor was necessary to keep the audience hooked into this part of the story, and it was done with exceptional success.  Nath was a highly enjoyable character that added some extra flavor of fun late in the film.

Of course, speaking of fun performances, right from start, Simon Pegg brings his rich comedic ability to the movie reprising his role of Benjamin Dunn.  At one point, I was afraid they would exploit it too much, but it eventually settles down into a situation-relevant personality trait which never hijacks the film’s tone.

Generally, I have nothing bad to say about the cinematography, but I also don’t have anything exceptional to say about it.  I always remember some shots from the previous films of large dramatic scope.  Something that allows you to take in the magnitude of a location or beat before a dramatic action sequence.  The locations are very well represented from Moscow to Mumbai with some very nice aerial shots.  Everything is well shot, and the action sequences are very competently staged, shot, and edited together.  There’s just nothing that sticks out with the visuals this time out, but that’s merely a point made in context with the franchise as a whole.  In and of itself, there is nothing at all to criticize about the work of Director of Photography Robert Elswit.  I’ve seen many action movies shot without any artistic integrity or visual competence to say that Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is surely one of the far better shot films of the genre.

The visual effects are excellent.  I was never once taken out of the film.  Every last effect is seamless and realistic with its surroundings.  They entirely serve the story by reflecting the tone and intensity of the moment.  The music does the same.  The classic Mission: Impossible theme is punched in every so often at the right moment, but overall, it services the moment by enhancing it but not overwhelming it.

Frankly, I believe Brad Bird should be highly commended on his live action directorial debut.  I’m sure he had very supportive assistance from Tom Cruise and J.J. Abrams, but at the end of it all, Bird is the one responsible for the final product that we see before us.  Everything he was given was executed greatly, and I don’t feel there’s any fat in this motion picture.  It’s very lean and well paced with smartly conceived and shot action sequences.  This surely doesn’t disappoint as it delivers on the promise and expectations of the franchise.  However, if their intention was to position Jeremy Renner to potentially take the reins of the franchise, I don’t think they succeeded.  The screenplay simply doesn’t give him the opening to rise to an equal level as Cruise’s Ethan Hunt.  Again, absolutely none of this is a failing of Renner himself.  He has every quality needed to take on that role as franchise lead, but the story treated him as too much of a supporting character than one to step forward into the forefront.  Regardless, I do highly recommend Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.  The franchise continues to please by improving upon itself and setting higher standards for each new outing.


Street Kings (2008)

This is one of those films I did not see in theatres.  It was a DVD rental discovery that I have been very pleased to have discovered.  The cast is really what drew me to Street Kings – Hugh Laurie, Forest Whitaker, and what might seem like a swerve in Keanu Reeves.  I am very much a Keanu fan from Bill & Ted to Point Break to Constantine and beyond.  Yeah, I get why people takes jabs at him, but I’ve always enjoyed his work.  Here, he turns in a very strong performance holding his own opposite some heavyweight acting talents.  This is a very well conceived and executed film from David Ayer that I feel is exceptionally worthy of your time and attention.

Keanu Reeves stars as Tom Ludlow, a veteran LAPD Vice Detective who has struggled to navigate through life after the death of his wife.  He’s a cop who chooses to cutout procedure on the street taking violent action against known criminals to close a case.  He is well protected by his Captain Jack Wander (Forest Whittaker) every step of the way.  However, when evidence implicates Tom in the execution of his former partner turned Internal Affairs informant (Terry Crews), he is forced to go up against the cop culture he’s been a part of his entire career, ultimately leading him to question the loyalties of everyone around him.  He is regularly confronted by Internal Affairs Captain Biggs (Hugh Laurie) who probes for the truth, but Ludlow views him as an enemy to be combated.  However, as he partners with the untainted Detective Paul Diskant (Chris Evans) to weed through this shady, twisted maze towards his own answers, Ludlow comes to realize just how crooked this world is, and who his real enemies are.

I am a definite crime genre lover spawned from numerous Michael Mann films, and I also enjoy a solid cop drama.  This brings it all to the table in a very grounded, emotional, but also entertaining package.  It’s very smartly written to keep an audience on its toes as the secrets slowly rise to the surface.  Bits of action are peppered throughout to keep the energy flowing in support of the plot.  Ludlow goes on a shady journey trying to find out exactly where he stands in this crooked world of corruption and deception.  This tangled tapestry unfolds to reveal a wealth of dangerous, twisted people with dark agendas.

Keanu really does kick it up to a higher level as Tom Ludlow.  The character can be crass in certain moments, but also, show compassion when it matters most to him.  There are some fine dynamics to the character that Keanu balances out with ease.  There’s the ass kicking cop that throws down shots of vodka after wasting some criminals.  There’s the contemptuous man trying to shake loose the truth that everyone seems very quick to sweep under the rug.  There is also the slightly humorous side of Ludlow with a couple quips here and there which add to the crass attitude.  He’s been protected through everything, and thus, has developed an attitude where he doesn’t take anything from anyone.  He has an ego and a self-serving nature, but is able to direct it to his advantage on these unforgiving, violent streets.  Everything he does, he believes is for the best, even if it’s crooked, but he grows and changes when confronted with just how crooked and screwed up everything has become.  He’s the kind of character who is hardened by his fractured life and his harsh job, but when it comes down to it, he has a strong sense of humanity that he reserves for those who deserve it.  Those who don’t get the ill end of his personality which is full of contempt and the will to act it out.  Keanu Reeves handles this satisfyingly textured character with a lot of passion and charisma.  He is an excellent lead for this film.

Of course, Forest Whitaker is amazing!  The man has such a wealth of charisma and passion that it bleeds through in every scene.  He inhabits Captain Jack Wander with a strong ego and bravado that none can contend with or deflate.  He has pride in his men, but also conviction and authority over them.  He’s very much a king high atop his throne where he has garnered respect and fear from those around him.  He never comes off as a straight arrow, but supposedly does what he does because Ludlow is his creation.  He covers up and cleans up whatever he needs to so that his star cop can keep burning down the street trash.  Whitaker makes Wander an increasingly despicable person, but not one you can take your eyes off of.  He has a larger than life presence that commands a scene, and that’s what the character needed.  A man of power and guile that has the audacity to take on anyone that challenges him or his men.  A man with his own dirty secrets that holds all the cards to play people however he wants.  It is a brilliant performance that motivates his co-stars to push themselves further and harder.

Meanwhile, on a more reduced role, Hugh Laurie delivers an intelligent, subtle performance as Captain James Biggs of Internal Affairs.  He carefully probes Ludlow throughout the film just giving him a little nudge here and there.  As Laurie has proven in his many years portraying Dr. Gregory House, he can hold a scene smartly opposite anyone.  It’s only one scene, but Forest Whitaker gives him a challenge to contend with.  Laurie, as Biggs, stands his ground well.  However, the rest of his scenes are opposite Keanu, and they both play them with an electric dynamic.  They both portray strong characters offering up conflict fueled by Ludlow’s misconceptions.  He doesn’t know what Biggs is really after, and Biggs doesn’t show his cards.  He just let’s things play out with a little encouragement to make sure Ludlow takes the right critical steps.

The film is shot with some sharp style and edge.  The cinematography continually maintains the energy of the narrative, and providing numerous inspired camera moves to punctuate certain dramatic beats.  Thankfully, the style and edge never compromise the story being told, it merely services and enhances it.  Everything in this film is conceived and executed properly.  Every role is cast with a lot of thought and detail.  Strong actors are implanted throughout the movie from the leads to the supporting roles.

Chris Evans adds an extra, different dynamic as the slightly green Detective Diskant.  A cop interested in doing the right thing, and willing to push past his experience and limits to do so.  He might not have as much streetwise mileage as Ludlow, but has the conviction to maintain his sense of justice.  Evans strikes the right balance with him offering up enough inexperienced uncertainty mixed with confidence through trust.  Evans & Reeves have a fine chemistry that is born out of the characters’ contrasts, as with most great pairings.  That helps to maintain a lighter mood between them, and gives the film its balance of humorous moments.  I feel Diskant is definitely a conduit for the audience to better connect with the story.  Ludlow is clearly the lead, but Diskant is a little more relatable and helps to give Ludlow someone to connect with on the journey.  Someone he can trust, and through Diskant, you can come to relate more with Ludlow.

What I really like about this film is how smart it is written.  No character is conceived without a motivation for their actions, and nothing is dumbed down for the convenience of the plot.  Everything fits together amazingly well.  Screenwriters James Ellroy, Kurt Wimmer, & Jamie Moss delivered something very satisfying on multiple levels, and director David Ayer realized that with great balance and competence.  The entire plot is well constructed, and gradually develops on-screen in a very coherent and intelligent manner.  All the characters are written and played with a lot of personality and realistic depth.  They all work well opposite one another to create a very diverse and interesting landscape for this crooked world.  I literally have nothing negative at all to say about this film.  To me, it should be considered a classic in the genre.  I love the energy and momentum throughout the story to keep you hooked into where it is leading Tom Ludlow.  That doesn’t mean there’s action all the time, just that the plot continues to develop adding new elements that drive the characters forward.  Everything that develops motivates people and events towards more dangerous consequences until Ludlow is faced with the truth, but it’s not without it’s costs.

With Street Kings, there’s plenty of violent action, emotionally charged drama, serious danger, and fine dashes of humor to make it a very powerful, entertaining ride that’s worth taking.  This is one of my favorite films of the last few years, and I give it my full, wholehearted recommendation!  There is no fat in this film, just lean, strong talent that punctuates the story and characters.