Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015)

Imission_impossible_rogue_nation_postern the last decade or so arguably the greatest action/spy/thriller franchises have been Jason Bourne, James Bond, and Mission Impossible. To their credit, each series has crafted several passable films fortified by a few real stalwarts of the spy thriller genre. Although many of these series thrive on gadgetry, set pieces, and a cynical tone more at home in the modern millennium, one thing that set some of the better films apart were interesting female characters.

James Bond is an icon. Jason Bourne is a modern icon. Tom Cruise as an action hero is an icon on his own merit. But we expect that to a certain degree. What the cinematic world has not had for as long are phenomenal female action heroes and the parameters seem far more complicated than simply being adequate at kicking butt. For instance, Casino Royale boasted Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) arguably the greatest of the Bond Girls because she was far from simple eye candy — a throwaway sidekick — she actually was witty and interesting and tragic. All those things.

It’s also no surprise that writer-director Christopher McQuarrie teamed up with Tom Cruise yet again to follow up the surprising success of Edge of Tomorrow which showcased another strong female lead in Emily Blunt.

Thus,  in some ways, it makes sense that Rebecca Ferguson steals the show in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. But it’s not any less surprising. There are numerous other major names. Obviously, Cruise first and foremost then Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Alec Baldwin, and Ving Rhames. But they’re all playing the parts that we’ve seen before. Computer geniuses. CIA Operatives. Rogue agents. Program Directors. There’s a shadowy villain played by Sean Harris and yet another organization with vague but nevertheless ominous intentions called “The Syndicate.” You get the picture.

But for the simple fact that female action stars are often few and far between on the big screen, Rebecca Ferguson is a true scene stealer. And she starts off quickly by subverting our expectations as an audience. She’s very pretty indeed but her role is not necessarily about her looks which is terribly refreshing. She’s smart, clever, enigmatic, and she seemingly has the most complicated trajectory in the entire film. As an audience, we don’t know where her loyalties lie although we have our suspicions. But more powerfully, she does not quite know herself. Best of all there are no overtly provocative scenes crammed into the story line with the sole objective to sell tickets.

Tom Cruise proves he can still carry a great action movie yet again and that’s because he’s playing it smart — surrounding himself with great talent — and benefiting from his supporting cast. Rogue Nation is not groundbreaking by any means but it’s wonderfully diverting with all the impossible missions, double crosses, and intrigue that we could want. What it sets out to do it does quite well and keeps us entertained in the process.

As a caveat, the fact that our main heroine is named Ilsa and because the film found its way to Casablanca amid its jet-setting, it made me eager for a little bit of Bogart & Bergman. Also, I wouldn’t mind catching a few reruns of Peter Graves. But that’s not to take away from this film. Enjoy it unabashedly. It really is a great deal of fun.

3.5/5 Stars

Blue Jasmine (2013)

90cbd-blue_jasmineThe emotionally unstable socialite Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) seems to think everyone in the world wants to listen to her talk and reminisce
This film shares a resemblance to Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire, and it can be know coincidence because Woody Allen knows his history.  On her part, Blanchett ironically shines as Jasmine, a woman who was married to a swindler (Alec Baldwin), has a nervous breakdown and then finds herself penniless in San Fran on her sister’s doorstep (Sally Hawkins). Jasmine is a snobbish jetsetter who had all the possessions that money could buy and a successful hubby. However, pull out the rug from under her and what’s left is a needy hypochondriac plagued by bouts of loneliness.  When she’s not jamming down pills chased by martinis, she’s feeling sorry for herself. She is also often prone to be unstable and throw tantrums. But by the end of this film she is all alone on a bench. No money, no family, not even any love life. Jasmine is a tough case because she is absolutely despicable and on top of that annoying, and yet we still have a small degree of sympathy for her. Allen’s film walks the tightrope between comedy and tragedy to great effect. 
 
4/5 Stars 

 

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

fa822-glengarrymovieIt’s a film about a despicable world which promotes despicable people and despicable behavior. That’s the world of the real estate salesmen in Glengarry Glen Ross. Here are men who use any mode necessary to close deals as they say. They finagle, lie, cheat and even steal because those are just tricks of the trade. Those who get the good leads are able to close more deals and make more bank. Those who get the leftovers struggle to swing something out of nothing. Shelley “The Machine” Levene (Jack Lemmon) is one of those struggling after many years of success in the business or racket, whichever you prefer. He has a lovely personality, rather like a hissing snake trying to seduce you before going in for the kill. On the flip side, he can be a real jerk and he is unscrupulous as all get out.

But that’s enough on Shelley. The office is run by rigid John Williamson (Kevin Spacey) who just follows his orders and does not budge an inch. Then there is Ricky Roma (Al Pacino), the top closer who is especially cynical but also a great admirer of Shelley’s skill. Dave Moss (Ed Harris) is a man with a big mouth and fiery temper not ready to sit by while other men outperform him. Finally, there’s George Aaronow (Alan Arkin) a man who humors Moss and is also fed up with his situation.

The wheels start turning when the Big Whigs send in a man named Blake (Alec Baldwin) to motivate the salesmen. It’s the survival of the fittest after all and they know what it takes to sell real estate so he encourages them to go and do likewise. His main tactics include berating, insults, and threats against their careers (They either get a car, a set of knives or the boot). Verbal attacks are sometimes more pernicious than physical beatings and that’s the truth here. They never relent even after Blake leaves because that’s the type of choice words that this environment fosters. One minute a salesman uses a polished voice to coerce a client then turns right around to bad mouth a colleague.

Moss on his part tries to pull Aaronow into his plan to steal the good leads from Williamson’s office. A desperate Levene tries to get better leads from an unrelenting Williamson as the veteran man struggles to convince clients and deal with his ill daughter. Roma, on his part, is at top form playing his client (Jonathan Pryce) and getting him to stay with a deal until it gets messed up. In the process we see all the pettiness, desperateness and corruption unleashed. The burglary goes down and it does not necessarily involve who you would think. Maybe it does. That’s not the point, though. The point is these men will do anything given the position they are in, but it’s not that simple because each one has their complexities. For instance, Levene and Roma are on very good terms and Moss and Aaronow seem very buddy, buddy. But ultimately it seems they look out for number one and that takes its toll on any human being.

The film is a biting drama brought to us through a fiery and sometimes brutal script from David Mamet, based on his play. Furthermore, the story is aided by an all-star cast of big names. Each one plays an equally despicable character. I knew Pacino, Spacey, Harris, and Arkin were up to the task because I had seen them before in tough or villainous roles. However, to his credit Jack Lemmon shows his versatility here since I absolutely despised him for once. That’s no easy task and he proved it to be possible. This film may be a black comedy, but there really should not be much to laugh at.

3.5/5 Stars