Mladen and Del review ‘Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation’

Image courtesy of Paramount.

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” Starring Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris and Alec Baldwin. Directed by Christopher McQuarrie. 131 minutes. Rated PG.

Mladen’s take

Del knows where my review of “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” (MI V) is heading. I won’t disappoint him entirely, but he’ll have to be patient.

The movie summary first. MI V is a smooth spy thriller. Solid plot. Well acted. Top notch real stuntman stunts. In short, the discredited and disavowed IMF (Mission Impossible Force) dukes with the CIA and “Rogue Nation” – aka The Syndicate – of allegedly dead spies and hitmen to keep societies from sliding into revolts and wholesale slaughter.

The Syndicate, headed by misguided former British MI6er (I assume) Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) wants to create a New World Order by first destroying the Current World Order. The IMF, led by Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), takes on the task of keeping the Rogue Nation from succeeding, though no one or institution, including the CIA, believes it exists. In fact, the CIA, incarnate in the movie as its very stiff, somewhat unconvincing director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), sends a “Special Projects Team” to hunt Hunt and the rest of the IMF.

Hunt’s outlawed IMF, if that’s the way to describe an agency of spooks that legally never existed, ends up a player in a globe-trotting good guys versus bad guys game deftly manipulated by the most intelligent, beautiful, and kick-your-ass woman spy – Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) – ever put on the big screen or, for that matter, any size screen anywhere. Is she an angel or Lucifer? Who cares. It was good that the MI V script was clean and comprehensible because I could barely keep my focus on the movie’s turns and twists when Ferguson was on the screen.

There is a generous dose of humor in the film and stunts that only occasionally foray into the impossible. From what I noticed, MI V has one absurd piece of CGI action. It involves a Beamer launched backwards at high speed during a superbike chase through the streets and open roads of Casablanca, Morocco. Thank goodness for German engineering or Hunt and sidekick Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) would’ve been deader than the pancake-flat squirrel down the road from my home.

Also annoying was the coincidence during the very same motorcycle chase that saw Hunt and Benji re-unite with fellow IMFers William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames).

Finally, and forgive me for repeating myself, MI V would’ve been a better movie had it been made for an R rating. Cussing and blood splatter are musts for films that involve lots of gunfire, treachery, ambitious Government officials pursuing nothing more than power, and mayhem that unfolds in cities full of passing bystanders.  

MI V won’t win any Oscars. But, I’ll say this. It’s well worth seeing in the theater. The B+/A- movie, I can’t decide and I’m trying to stay level headed despite images of Ferguson floating through my mind, also continues Cruise’s streak of very good performances. See or re-see 2014’s “Edge of Tomorrow” to understand what I’m talking about.

Del’s take

I was hoping Mladen would take a cold shower before writing his review of “Rogue Nation.” Instead, I get to mop up his Pavlovian drool – in this case a babe, not a bell, infused his report with such salivary gusto.

I heard before going in that “Rogue Nation” was as good, if not better, than “Mad Max.”


Let me put it this way: If the femme fatales from both movies squared off in a death match, Mladen’s little Ilsa would be roadkill flatter and deader than that squirrel down the road from his house. Furiousa would blow Ilsa to bits with one of those badass canons she carries, then flatten her 18 times with her kickass war rig, and war boys would blast her pancaked remains into smithereens with explosive pig-stickers.

That’s not to say “Rogue Nation” isn’t a good movie. It is, and you should see it in a theater, and if you get the senior citizen discount good on you because once again they mistook me for a younger, more financially capable person, and I paid full matinee price.

“Rogue Nation” features some amazing stunts. We’ve all seen the clip where Tom Cruise clings to the side of an Airbus as it takes off. I found a motorcycle chase sequence to be a lot more hair-raising. And, of course, there were the required heights scenes where Cruise is jumping off something taller than Oprah Winfrey’s couch – c’mon, Tom, I think we get the fact you like dangling from high places. You should run for president.

Sean Harris was a deliciously evil bad guy. I haven’t enjoyed a movie villain that much since Hans Gruber. The MI team members were all capable and funny – would Simon Pegg be anything BUT funny? Tom Cruise continues as an affable movie star – and he IS a movie star. Mladen was right about “Edge of Tomorrow” – you gotta see it.

In the run-up to “Rogue Nation” we caught a preview for “Spectre,” the new James Bond movie. In the lobby was a poster for “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” All these spy movies trace their origins to the 1960s, the us-vs.-them mentality of the Cold War, and the very real fear we would fall to the communists. James Bond, Napoleon Solo and Jim Phelps were all that stood between us and Red Square and the Little Red Book. They took their job seriously, and we took them seriously.

THAT is what’s missing from these movies.

We’re not afraid of world domination by a soul-less entity. (We do, after all, shop at Walmart.) We’re afraid our 401(k)s will be eaten up by the looming financial crash. We’re afraid the boss will hand us a pink slip. We’re afraid we’ll end up on the street.

Spy movies no longer have the ability to conjure urgency – at least not like they did in the 1960s. And that’s what I think is missing from “Rogue Nation” – a sense of urgency. Not for Ethan Hunt and his team of comical do-gooders, but for the world itself.

That’s why I’m going to give “Rogue Nation” a B. It’s an entertaining movie, but for me it lacked urgency.

Oh, and it lacked Furiosa.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Warner Brothers.

“Edge of Tomorrow” Starring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton. Directed by Doug Liman. 113 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Del’s take

Didn’t Mladen, at some point during one of his hyperbolic rants, swear he’d never see another PG-13-rated movie? Didn’t he say they were all crap?

Well, guess what?

He broke his vow and attended “Edge of Tomorrow,” the latest Tom Cruise sci-fi vehicle, and after the movie was over you should have heard him, squealing like a little girl who’d just been given a peck on the cheek by Justin Bieber. He not only saw another PG-13-rated movie but he loved it.

Mladen, you phony.

His enthusiasm, however, is well-deserved. “Edge of Tomorrow” is a terrific summer movie, carrying the right balance of humor, tension, and spectacle. Your ticket-buying dollars will not have been wasted on this one.

In “Edge of Tomorrow,” an alien race we call “Mimics” has invaded the earth and is swallowing up Europe. Unless they’re stopped, mankind faces the same fate he inflicts on so many animal species of this planet. Cruise’s character, Major William Cage, is sent to the fight despite his credentials as a public information officer for the military. During the battle he kills an “alpha,” a particular kind of alien that, in dying, bestows him with the ability to restart the day each time he dies. (Believe me, there are no groundhogs in this movie, and if there were, they’d all be exterminated.) Through repeating his experiences he’s able to learn and survive a little longer, until he meets up with Sgt. Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who underwent the same experience and learned there’s a very bad alien pulling all the strings. Their mission, which they choose to accept, is to exterminate that alien.

This movie presents so many pluses it’s hard to list them all. The writing is excellent. The dialogue is snappy, at times hilarious, at other times deadly earnest. Pacing, internal logic, respites from tension – they’re all handled with a canniness that speaks to the skills of the writers and the director.

Acting is top notch. Tom Cruise is a sympathetic and realistic character in the bones of the unwilling and frightened Major Cage, and he grows throughout the movie. Emily Blunt is a tough badass who has her vulnerabilities – and might I add it’s a pleasure to see a strong woman in a movie again – and Bill Paxton is funnier than his role in “Aliens.”

Speaking of which, the aliens in “Edge of Tomorrow” are truly alien. I take my hat off to the person who designed them. They look like nothing you’ve seen.

“Edge of Tomorrow” is not “deep,” meaning it won’t be in line for a best picture award. But it’s nice to see Cruise in a winner. It’s nice to see a movie that isn’t based on a sequel or a prequel or a remake of a remake. It’s nice to see a well-written, smart, funny and exciting film again. I was beginning to wonder if I ever would.

I almost clapped at the end of “Edge of Tomorrow,” and if a movie review can make a sound, that’s likely what you hear. Go see the movie. I’d rate it a solid A.

Mladen’s take

It would be easy to dismiss “Edge of Tomorrow” as a trite film because the trailers make it look and sound like “Ground Hog Day” meets “Halo.” But, that would be an error.

Despite its flimsy PG-13 rating, “E of T” is very good. The script and acting – Tom Cruise as Cage and Emily Blunt as Vrataski in the lead roles and Bill Paxton supporting as Farrell – were top notch. Plus, computer-generated graphics were used to enhance the plot, rather than conceal poor writing, silly coincidences that keep a weak story flowing, and crappy, underdeveloped characters typical of summer blockbusters.

Del summed the movie nicely, so I won’t bother. “E of T” is a film worthy of the big screen and big ticket prices moviegoers have to endure these days.

“E of T” is a sci-fi adventure built around its stars. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of gun and grenade play and lots of CV-22-like machines blown out of the sky, but it’s the movie’s characters that keep your attention.

Cage transitions nicely from a selfish and naïve military public affairs propagandist at the beginning of the film to a man clearly thinking about someone other than himself by the end. He dies many times, often in funny ways.

Vrataski is tough from the get-go and the brains behind the operation to whack the Omega, a time-warping brain, that controls the Mimics, hyper-mobile alien troops that have conquered continental Europe.

“Edge of Tomorrow” isn’t perfect, but could have been – yeah, Del, here it comes – if the studio dedicated it to entertainment for adults by going R. Yes, the producers would have made less money, but, in exchange for less change, “E of T” could have gone down in moviedom sci-fi history as masterful. Was “Alien” rated PG(-13)? Was “The Matrix” rated PG(-13)? Was “District 9” rated PG-13? No, no, and no. More realistic battle scenes would have helped “E of T.” Vivid blood spray, graphic skin, muscle, and organ disintegrations after impacts by projectiles or crashes, full-bore cussing, and reproductive urge tension between handsome Cage and beautiful Vrataski would have burnished the movie’s credentials. Instead, we get sterilized deaths and constrained language even when Mimics are running amok and slicing through exoskeleton-equipped human soldiers.

Lukewarm rant aside, I would see “Edge of Tomorrow” again in the theater if I could afford it. And, “E of T” will become part of my Blu-Ray collection when it’s released for home viewing.

Though it troubles me to no end, I completely agree with Del on this one. “Edge of Tomorrow” is a solid A.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.

“Oblivion” Starring Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Melissa Leo. Directed by Joseph Kosinski. 124 minutes. Rated PG.

Del’s take

And why did they choose the title “Oblivion”?

Because that’s how long the movie is.

It’s nice to look at, though. And the cast does a credible job. Critics dismiss Tom Cruise as an actor but he’s good – if you saw “Collateral” you’ll know what I’m talking about. Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough and Melisso Leo carry their weight, with Leo’s part trending toward Clicheland at the end. Morgan Freeman stars as Morgan Freeman.

“Oblivion’s” problem, however, lies in its veneer of a story. Casual science fiction fans will appreciate its sleek look and original ideas. Everybody else will look at those ideas, recognize they’ve been done time and again, and wonder what the fuss was about.

Here’s the story: Mankind has fought and won a war with alien invaders, but in the process they’ve rendered Earth uninhabitable. Everyone has fled to a sanctuary on Saturn’s moon Titan. Left behind are Jack (Cruise) and Victoria (Riseborough) who must oversee a fleet of drones that protects giant energy harvesters from scattered remnants of the alien invasion force. In two weeks’ time the harvesters will have collected enough energy to ensure mankind’s future on Titan. But a spacecraft crash lands on Earth and disgorges a crew of preserved human beings, including a woman Jack seems to remember from a former life. He begins to question everything he knows, including his current mission.

“Oblivion” relies on a couple of plot twists to deliver impact and I will not reveal them here. Suffice it to say the first act – no doubt intended as a character-building session by director Kosinski – is excruciatingly long and, dare I say, boring. Things pick up in the second act, and it was here I figured out what was really going on in the movie. The third act was mostly action-packed, though a word of warning: If trailers created the impression “Oblivion” is a grand-scale science fiction epic with sprawling CGI battles, think again. It’s mostly character-driven. Movie fans will recognize influences from “2001,” “Minority Report” and “Gattaca.”

Cruise is effective as the memory-wiped Jack struggling for rapprochement with the images he sees of a wife in a former life. Riseborough, his teammate, successfully evokes a slavish dedication to corporate dictates, at one point reminding Jack it’s their job not to remember. And Kurylenko brings to her role a sweetly devoted innocence that makes her worthy of Jack’s attentions.

Leo’s role, as the administrator of an orbiting station that monitors the drones, is constrained, but she nonetheless brings personality to her exchanges with the Earth-side crew until the very end of the movie, when she devolves into a caricature. Freeman has limited screen time and seems to channel Denzel Washington in “The Book of Eli.”

All of this is not to say “Oblivion” is a bad movie. But it’s not very original, it features long stretches of not much happening, and despite its beauty and the skill of its cast, it won’t create a lasting impression.

Mladen’s take

Walking from the theater, I asked Del, “What was the last good movie we saw?” We had just watched “Oblivion.”

“Cloverfield,” was the response after a few moments of thought.

Yet, Del has written a merciful review of “Oblivion.”

To be honest, I sympathize to some degree with his reaction. The actors sincerely and skillful portrayed their characters but were unable to subdue the movie’s weak script, clichéd ideas and too many subplots.

“Oblivion” is a sci-fi dystopian chick-flick fairy tale with some action.

Let’s start with the good.

The cinematography was lush and, somehow, sparing at the same time.

The special effects were very good.

Jack’s bubble engine-powered, high-performing V/STOL aircraft with a goldfish bowl cockpit was neat.

The autonomous spherical drones that protected gigantic water vaporizers were menacing despite their shape. Fast, heavily armed and assessing threats through HAL 9000-like sensor eyes, the unmanned combat aerial vehicles intimidated me not because of their role in the movie. They’re what the real mankind-induced future has in store for us.

Finally, there’s what the orbiting space station administrator would say when she finished giving Jack and Victoria their orders: “Are we an effective team?”

It’s exactly what many of us encounter during the course of a workday. A type of corporate cheerleading that’s all enthusiasm and smiles on the surface and brain-washing dogma beneath that reminds workers they better toe the line if they want to keep their jobs. Are you with us or against us?

Now, a few of the weaknesses of “Oblivion.”

Del mentioned that “Oblivion” has similarities with movies that came before it, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Minority Report,” and “Gattaca.” I add “The Matrix,” “Independence Day” and even “Battle: LA” to the list.

Maybe it’s impossible to devise a novel reason that aliens would invade earth. Maybe it’s impossible to end the invasion with other than nuking the mothership from the inside after gaining access to it through implausible deception. But, can’t someone, somewhere try?

“Oblivion” is a complex story. It weaves Jack’s nightmares with suspicions about the truth of his situation. For good measure, there are the battles that he has to fight with “scavs” whenever he has to repair a drone that has crash landed. And, another principal character is fully introduced about half-way into the movie.

Complexity doesn’t have to be bad. The problem is that it can be very tricky to develop as a screenplay. And, in the case of “Oblivion,” it took a long, long time to tie everything together. The effort including introducing a backstory to establish true identities.

As “Oblivion” dragged on, I became bored. Not even the questions that it raised periodically were enough to pull me back from the urge to look at my wristwatch.

I didn’t feel much sympathy for the characters when the movie ended.

And, I was thoroughly irritated by the arrogant dopiness of the lone, star-travelling alien that met its demise by ingesting a human-planted, uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction device. All the being needed was a couple of cloned TSA screeners and an X-ray machine to detect the nuke and it would have been on its way to destroy another planet in just a couple of weeks.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and public information officer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Paramount.

“Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol” Starring Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner. Directed by Brad Bird. 133 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Plot summary: An American black operations team is framed for blowing up part of the Kremlin. The true culprit, a rogue physicist, also uses the incident to increase tension between Russia and America as part of his plan to trigger an Earth-cleansing nuclear war between the superpowers. The black ops team seeks to clear its name and stop the physicist from fooling the governments of the superpowers into an exchange of nuclear bombs.

Mladen’s take

The recently released film “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” (MI4) should be re-titled “Mission: Implausible – Stretching Logic.”

It’s not that I’m looking for realism in a spy thriller. I’m just hoping for a plot where massive doses of lucky timing and superhuman agility and brains are less than essential to keeping a movie cohesive.

MI4 offers clever dialogue and spiffy action, even some moments of true daring, without an action movie’s critical ingredient, suspense. In the end, I didn’t much care if the nuclear warhead catapulted into space by a Russian submarine-launched ballistic missile detonated above San Francisco.

Tom Cruise reprises his role as super-agent Ethan Hunt in MI4. Cruise, now older and more handsome than cute, makes a convincing spy. His team of disavowed and pursued agents was entertaining and likable.

But, no character in the movie provoked loathing or respect, and, as a result, MI4 lacks emotional punch.

Particularly disappointing was the film’s unwillingness to develop the role played by Michael Nyqvist. He portrays out-of-control physicist Hendricks, a man with an IQ of 190 who dreams of destroying civilization.

As I understood it, Hendricks wanted to initiate a worldwide experiment in natural selection. To give evolution a shove, the physicist figured he had to clear the slate by incinerating everything on Earth with thermonuclear weapons. Cool idea, but what made the genius insane? What’s his life like during moments of respite from plotting global holocaust or running from agents possessing breathtaking spy accessories?

One more gripe. The soundtrack for MI4 was uninspired. The film didn’t offer proper homage to the irrepressible, distinctive theme from the “Mission: Impossible” TV series. The theme’s thumping beginning and portentous melody was swallowed by its conversion in MI4 to electronic technopop.

MI4 isn’t a bad movie, but it wasn’t worth the $9.75 plus tax I paid to see it. See MI4 on the big screen at a theater with high-resolution projectors, but make it a matinee.

Del’s take

Tom Cruise is crazy – not for jumping up and down on couches but for jumping out of one of the world’s tallest buildings, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. I confess to not having watched that scene – as a lifelong acrophobic I had my hands in front of my eyes. But it’s the only lasting impression I have of “Ghost Protocol.”

Directors, producers, book editors – virtually everyone in the contemporary entertainment industry – have the impression consumers want nothing but action. On behalf of moviegoers and readers everywhere may I set the record straight? Yes, we want action. But we also want substance. We want accuracy. We want characters we care about. Finally, we want a story – however implausible – that makes sense within its context.

I’d heard “Ghost Protocol” was the best of the “Mission Impossible” canon. I came away from the movie strangely disengaged. For the most part it was entertaining and probably worth my $6.50 ticket (much to Mladen’s dismay I was given the senior citizen discount – sometimes it’s good to be a geezer!). But I wouldn’t call MI4 the best of the bunch. I didn’t care what happened because I knew no matter what, everybody would live, the day would be saved, and a sequel was probably in the works. When you find yourself nitpicking over such issues you know a movie has failed to capture your forgiveness.

Forget about thinly sketched characters, a forgettable soundtrack and a hackneyed plot. Let’s talk about technical errors. In one scene Jeremy Renner is levitated by a suit that responds to a magnetic field generated by a small RPV. I’m actually offended the scriptwriters think I’d fall for such an impossibility. A magnetic field that strong would suck up more electricity than any battery in existence could provide, nevermind the Energizer Bunnies in the RPV.

Spoiler alert: In the climactic scene a nuclear warhead attached to a rocket that is still firing hurtles toward San Francisco and clips a skyscraper. Even my vague understanding of ICBM technology tells me that once the boost phase of an ICBM is complete, multiple warheads separate from the rocket and fall toward their targets, detonating thousands of feet above. If director Bird wanted the afore-mentioned visuals he should have chosen a cruise missile.

I know – those are mere quibbles when the more important issue is: How does the movie work as a whole?

That depends on how high you set the bar. “Ghost Protocol” provides two hours of entertainment … but that’s about it. Let’s hope the next outing gives us more sympathetic characters, credible technology and a mission worthy of our time, like “Mission Impossible: Balance the Federal Budget.”

On second thought that’s waaaay too out there.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.