Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

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There once was a spy on the front
Who could save the whole world with a stunt.
He often was hunted
But did as he wanted,
For no one could match Ethan Hunt.
___________________

MPAA rating: PG-13

At this point, I’m not surprised that Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is yet another great addition to this series. What distinguishes it, though, is how it finally recognizes the value of continuity, something I put great value on in both TV show and film franchise. From the very first scene, we get Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) bantering with Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) in three different locations, only for all three to be dumbfounded at Tom Cruise/Ethan Hunt’s latest death-defying stunt to save the day. It’s a perfect combination of this series’ strengths, and for once, the audience already knows everyone involved, like catching up with old friends.

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That only continues when Brandt is called by the FBI director (Alec Baldwin) to answer for the IMF’s riskier plays in Ghost Protocol, followed by Ethan being ambushed by the mysterious organization known as the Syndicate (namedropped at the end of the previous movie). Beyond the refreshing continuity, it’s also nice to make new friends, and the film quickly charts its own course with the introduction of Rebecca Ferguson as a mysterious agent undercover in the Syndicate. With Ethan wanted by both the Syndicate and the FBI, he must rely on his usual daring and teamwork to outsmart the Syndicate’s Moriarty-like mastermind (Sean Harris).

Rogue Nation really shines through its stars. Cruise is as cleverly fearless as ever, while Ferguson maintains an arm’s-length chemistry with him as her allegiances constantly seem to shift. Meanwhile, Pegg, Rhames, and Renner are ideal companions for Cruise, particularly Renner’s second guessing of one of Cruise’s risky decisions (which seemed ripped right out of the second National Treasure, by the way). When they cite their loyalty and friendship, it means something since we’ve gotten to see it develop over two-plus movies, and Christopher McQuarrie’s script and direction highlight how well they all work together.

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My VC liked Rogue Nation better than Ghost Protocol, placing it just shy of the third film, while I tend to view the last three movies as tied, just for different reasons. The third film had the best villain and the most emotional stakes, the fourth film had the best plot and some of the coolest action scenes, and Rogue Nation has the best mixture of everything this series does well and possibly the best script, including some outstanding “gotcha” moments that felt so good.

That being said, I do feel that this one is just a little more generic than the others. The best and most original action scene is Tom Cruise’s minutes-long foray into an underwater data tank, but much of the rest consists of foot chases, car chases, motorcycle chases, and fistfights, which are all executed masterfully but can’t quite escape that feeling of déjà vu. Likewise, a tense scene in an opera kept me guessing all the way through, but also reminded me of a similar scene in Quantum of Solace.  Writing this review a couple weeks after watching it, I already feel like this will be the entry that remains in my memory the least.

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I hate to sound so negative, because Rogue Nation is still a great movie. It’s just that, with three great entries in a row now, I’m starting to have to nitpick to figure out where they rank in this series. I’m happy to group it in with its two predecessors, and I’m more excited than ever to finally see Fallout, now that I’ve completed my catch-up marathon of prior films. I’m especially glad to see that the villain’s open ending in Rogue Nation will get a continuation in Fallout, but I’m also rather disappointed that Jeremy Renner is nowhere to be found in the cast list. Based on its glowing reviews, though, I still hope that Fallout will be the finale to this marathon for which I’ve been hoping.

Best line: (Benji, sarcastically) “Join the IMF! See the world! On a monitor. In a closet.”

 

Rank: List-Worthy (joining the previous two)

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
591 Followers and Counting

 

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Next Gen (2018)

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The world’s an easy place to hate,
For it hates all too frequently.
And anger tends to escalate
The more it’s met with enmity.

One pain of heart
Can sow and start
A seed of hate
To germinate
And grow until
There’s no goodwill
For world or friend.
They all offend!
Life’s all about
The lashing out,
For no one cares
Or answers prayers;
Of that, they do not have a doubt.

But wait…
And hesitate to hate,
Just long enough to listen clear.
The world itself is quite the weight,
But others bearing it stand near
To show you how to persevere.
___________________

MPAA rating:  PG

It might be easy to write off a film that borrows plot elements from other stories as freely as Next Gen does, but this Chinese-American cartoon based on a graphic novel and delivered by Netflix manages to be more than the sum of its parts. Set in a futuristic world where personable robots are a ubiquitous household accessory, young robot-hating loner Mai (Charlyne Yi) becomes unlikely friends with an experimental droid called 7723 (John Krasinski) that might be able to save both her from herself and the world from a robot takeover. That description alone will probably conjure memories of The Iron Giant, Big Hero 6, and I, Robot, and Next Gen wears those similarities on its sleeve. Yet there’s more to appreciate beyond the familiar “boy and his robot” storyline (or “girl and her robot,” in this case).

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As I said, Next Gen’s biggest touchstone would have to be Big Hero 6, not only with its big friendly robot mascot but also its urban setting of Asian-Western fusion, with Chinese characters instead of Japanese. But this Netflix film has some intriguing differences as well. One of them is the extent of robot normalization, which goes beyond that of I, Robot. Almost every device in this world is semi-sentient, and while a lot of potential questions surrounding that aren’t even broached, it’s an intriguing setup. Mai’s mother (Constance Wu) is obsessed with her Q-Bot companions and their developer, the Steve Jobs-esque Justin Pin (Jason Sudeikis), and it’s not a coincidence that the robot fascination mirrors the distraction of smartphone use. It’s also worth noting that Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics apparently don’t apply, specifically the one about robots not harming humans, since a group of bullies order their robots to beat up on Mai for them.

Beyond the setting, there are some deeper than normal themes at play as well. Mai is resentful of her father’s abandonment of her and the way her mother uses robots to cope, and when she meets 7723, it’s only his weapons and the destruction they create that catch her interest. She’s quite angry and cynical for a cartoon protagonist, and interestingly, it’s 7723 that has to remind her to not lose her humanity when lashing out at the world.  7723 also has a struggle of his own; he values every minute spent with Mai, yet his memory cache is limited, forcing him to choose which memory files and systems to delete and make room for more. It’s not every cartoon that tackles existential questions reminiscent of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, so Next Gen’s themes are definitely a step above the usual “follow your heart” storyline we’ve seen all too often.

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On top of that, it’s a quality production, with fluid animation and some pretty awesome action sequences. One explosive scene in particular is one continuous tracking shot with no cuts. I already love those kinds of scenes in live-action, and, although it probably doesn’t require quite as much effort to pull off, I like that the technique is being used more and more in animation. (I could also cite the opening scene of The Secret Life of Pets or Diamond’s big fight scene in the anime Land of the Lustrous.)

As self-aware as it often is, it’s a shame that Next Gen feels obligated to conform to a few clichés, like the bully inevitably deciding “Hey, sorry I beat you up. Let’s be friends.” Likewise, Mai’s mother is pushed into a “you were right, I was wrong” confession that is so fast, it felt like the screenwriter checking off a plot requirement.

I will also say that Next Gen is probably better for older kids, and not just because of its deeper themes or a sudden death scene. There’s a funny running joke where 7723 can translate the barks of Mai’s excitable dog (Michael Pena), bleeping out his more profane words. I guess it’s on the level of any number of reality shows these days, but I don’t exactly welcome it when a kids’ cartoon features even the mouthing of the F-bomb.

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Next Gen isn’t perfect, but it comes closer to Big Hero 6 than I would have thought possible from a Chinese production company I’d never heard of. There’s a lot to love about it and how it addresses moving beyond tragedy and anger while remaining a fun and sweet adventure, and I certainly hope that this and other animation houses outside the mainstream can continue the high quality displayed here.

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
590 Followers and Counting

 

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

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Doing the impossible
(Repeatedly, if possible)
Is so much easier to pull
When backs are braced and funds are full,
For then a hero dutiful
Can fight for right as usual
And put up with a villain’s bull.

It’s harder when support is gone,
Blindsided, chased, and set upon,
A dangerous phenomenon,
For then the evildoers spawn
While tempting good to stay withdrawn.
It’s then that heroes’ brains and brawn
Are specially depended on.
_______________________

MPAA rating:  PG-13

I’m so glad I finally decided to catch up on this series. The Mission: Impossible films may have gotten off to a rocky start, but J.J. Abrams’ third installment breathed new life into the franchise, which Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol builds on even further. Every review I’ve seen has proclaimed Ghost Protocol the best installment of the series, but I think it’s more of a tie with its predecessor, though for different reasons (and of course I withhold judgment until I see the next two as well).

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Ghost Protocol may have seemed like an odd choice for Brad Bird’s first foray into live-action, but he did nail the super-spy vibe in The Incredibles and does the same here. Delivering a similar brilliant eye for action, he puts Ethan Hunt and the Impossible Mission Force through the ringer as they endeavor to stop a Russian madman (Michael Nyqvist) from initiating a nuclear war. From infiltrations gone wrong to the extended foot chases from which Tom Cruise must get most of his exercise, the fast-paced thrills are as good as they’ve ever been, with the crown jewel being that famous high-hanging sequence with Cruise actually clinging to the outside of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa skyscraper. The whole caper surrounding that scene is the film’s “high” point (see what I did there?), but other sequences also impress, like the spies employing some fascinating new toys or the high-stakes struggle for a briefcase in one of the coolest parking garages I’ve ever seen.

My VC thought Ghost Protocol had more lulls than its immediate predecessor, and perhaps that’s true, especially with some early undercover scenes and elements that require patience to be explained, but that’s minor quibble. What Ghost Protocol has over any of its brethren is the team it assembled. Ving Rhames may be sadly missing for most of the runtime, but never has Ethan had such strong supporting players.  As a new field agent promoted from his tech job in M:i:III, Simon Pegg is more than welcome in a larger comic relief role, while Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner deliver actual motivation and personality as circumstances fling them onto Ethan’s team, offering more than just the competence of the interchangeable teammates in the past (Maggie Q, John Polson, etc.; you might be asking “Who were they again?”). It was nice seeing Josh Holloway as well (Lost alert!), even if it was a disappointingly brief appearance.

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So, while I’m not raving as much as some critics, I still found Ghost Protocol to be a darn entertaining entry in the series. (And it came out in 2011? How am I just now getting to this?) The villain wasn’t as memorable as Philip Seymour Hoffman, and it didn’t quite nail the satisfying conclusion of the third film, its ever-increasing stakes being not as personal as Ethan’s struggle for his wife, but Ghost Protocol matched or exceeded it in just about every other respect. The plot had plenty of the twists I’ve come to expect from these films, and the way gadgets repeatedly malfunctioned or were unavailable kept the IMF team guessing and the suspense high. It’s not often that the fourth film in a series can still leave viewers eager for the next installment, but now I’m looking forward to Rogue Nation even more.

Best line: (Benji Dunn, complaining about their code names) “Why am I Pluto? It’s not even a planet anymore!”   (William Brandt) “Well, Uranus is still available.”

 

Rank: List-Worthy (joining Mission: Impossible III)

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
589 Followers and Counting

 

VC Pick: Running on Empty (1988)

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I did nothing wrong, and yet
Here I bear another’s debt.
I flee because they feel they must,
And I must follow, share their sweat,
And leave my future in their dust.

Still I love them dearly. How
Can I think to leave them now?
I’ll stay as long as they may need me,
Wait until our lives allow
Dreams my patience guaranteed me.
________________________

MPAA rating: PG-13 (mainly for a few F-bombs)

Since my schoolwork and home life haven’t given me an abundance of time for watching movies of my own choice (or reviewing them), that limitation has also applied to my dear Viewing Companion (VC), who hasn’t gotten to choose a movie for well over a month now. In trying to fix that, she introduced me to Running on Empty, the kind of former Oscar contender that you only discover either by accident or from some obscure recommendation. It’s a surprisingly effective drama in all respects, especially highlighting the squandered potential of young star River Phoenix, who received a Best Supporting Actor nomination from the Academy five years before his death.

Phoenix plays a teenage boy named Danny who can never be known as Danny. With his younger brother, he lives a life on the run, following his parents Arthur and Annie Pope (Judd Hirsch, Christine Lahti), a pair of former revolutionaries fleeing the FBI for an anti-war bombing back in 1971 (based on real-life radicals Bill Ayres and Bernardine Dohrn). He’s earnest and well-meaning, the kind of kid who may come off as a punk based on how little he says but becomes more endearing the longer you spend with him. Taking on his latest persona of “Michael,” he clearly loves his parents but is torn between wanting to protect and help them and desiring a life of his own, including a promising musical career and young love (with an acerbic Martha Plimpton of The Goonies). Likewise, his parents are conflicted as well, his father insistent on staying ahead of the law and his mother wondering when and how to let her son move on from their mistakes.

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Directed by Sidney Lumet, Running on Empty has no shortage of strong acting, and though Phoenix got most of the praise at the time, Lahti’s Golden Globe-nominated role plays the heartstrings even more. The film doesn’t offer any easy answers. Danny wants to be free of the burden of his parents’ crimes, but doing so would mean either exposing them or never seeing them again after their next move. His mother is willing to turn herself in for his sake, but that would mean leaving her other young son parentless if she and Arthur are jailed. Everyone in this sweet and tight-knit family wishes for normalcy, but there’s no simple way to reach it. Add in the danger of Annie and Arthur being lumped in with other Communists who have not mellowed their violence as the Popes have, and it’s clear that no resolution will satisfy everyone.

The performances are what really distinguish Running on Empty as an engaging and realistic drama, and for some reason, its empathy and sincerity made me think of Dominick and Eugene, another Oscar-worthy film from 1988 that is oft-overlooked. However, while my VC loves it and is no doubt irked by my reservations, Running on Empty doesn’t quite make my list. Perhaps it’s simply my underlying annoyance at Arthur and Annie’s actions, claiming that they’ve accepted the consequences of their actions when they really haven’t. True, they’ve suffered by constantly running, but accepting jail time would have freed their children from that kind of life as well. Then again, Danny would have grown up without his parents, but maybe the Popes should have thought of that before carrying out bombings while he was two years old!

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See what I mean? The moral questions at play here are hard to answer. And while I can be irritated by the Popes’ mistakes, those mistakes were made, and the ongoing fallout from them makes for a unique ethical quandary that remains surprisingly relatable and somehow manages a satisfying conclusion. Running on Empty may be a footnote in someone’s forgotten ‘80s collection, but it’s a hidden gem worth revisiting, as much for the reminder of River Phoenix’s talent as for the poignant questions of conscience.

Best line: (Lorna, Danny/Michael’s girlfriend) “Why do you have to carry the burden of someone else’s life?”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
589 Followers and Counting

 

Blindspot Pick #7: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

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Memories are funny things,
Immortal in some form at least,
For though they twist,
They still exist
And lie in wait to be released.

I cannot say if what’s recalled
Is how it was or how I felt.
For how I feel
Can shape what’s real
Within the memories I’m dealt.
_________________

MPAA rating: R (mainly for language, as well as sexual content)

Despite my falling behind on it, this Blindspot series has been a good opportunity for some firsts. Last time, I reviewed my first Marilyn Monroe film with Some Like It Hot, and now it’s my first exposure to Charlie Kaufman’s existential surrealism. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is sort of like Donnie Darko was for last year’s Blindspots, a film so audacious in its subtlety that I couldn’t help but enjoy its unusual narrative, whether I fully comprehended it or not.

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On its surface, Eternal Sunshine is a tale of love gone wrong. Introverted Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) has his life jump-started by the effervescent and capricious Clementine (Kate Winslet), not once but twice. We see them meet on a train from Montauk, only to learn that they’ve already been in a relationship, which ended when Clementine had her memories of Joel erased by the enigmatic Lacuna corporation. In retaliation, Joel commissions the same procedure for himself, and as the irresponsible technicians (Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo) slack off while doing their sci-fi work over the course of a single night, Joel revisits his memories and finds more worth saving than he remembered.

In many ways, Eternal Sunshine is structured as a puzzle that gradually allows itself to be solved, and I love those kinds of movies. Hints are dropped early, with many left till the end to be fully explained, and since Joel’s memories are peeled back from the most recent to the oldest, a lot of the plot is told literally in reverse, which is still easier to follow than anything in Memento. It’s watching these unraveled story threads come together that makes the film even more compelling, beyond the often relatable romance elements. (I’ll admit I saw some of myself in Joel’s self-conscious outlook.)

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Since so much of the story takes place inside Joel’s head, it takes numerous surreal turns along the way as it visualizes abstract concepts. Trying to prevent the erasure, Joel tries revisiting previously redacted memories, where faces and lighting are distorted, and later mixes his mental version of Clementine with unrelated childhood memories. It can get weird, or “warped” as Clementine puts it, but even its odder elements remain understandable in the abstract realm of Joel’s mind. Couple that with juggling two Clementines (one in Joel’s head as a representation of his memories of her, the other the real one struggling with her own deleted memories) and a couple ethics-challenging subplots surrounding the Lacuna staff, and Eternal Sunshine clearly boasts an intellectual complexity unique to most Hollywood fare. No wonder Kaufman won Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars that year, and I wish I’d known of the name’s poetic origin when I compiled my Top Twelve Poems in Movies list.

The actors also rise to the challenge, with Jim Carrey standing out even more than Kate Winslet’s manic girlfriend. Even in past dramatic roles like The Truman Show, there were traces of his trademark goofiness, but here he deftly subdues himself to fit the often somber tone of the script. There’s an elegiac urgency to scenes where memories are being erased, people snuffed out of existence and buildings torn apart on a metaphorical, metaphysical level. The effects used are simple but impressive in setting the scene for a series of inescapable dreams.

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So often people say they wish they could forget something, but the sci-fi premise of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind challenges them to rethink what might be lost along the way if such a wish were granted. In some ways, the core relationship of Eternal Sunshine isn’t much different from (500) Days of Summer, which also shows the gradual souring of a once-so-sweet romance, albeit in a somewhat more linear fashion. (It’s funny when a film like (500) Days of Summer can be considered “linear” by comparison.) Eternal Sunshine asks whether the memory of such a soul-crushing break-up is worth retaining, especially if we as human beings might end up repeating the same mistakes consciously or not. As Captain Kirk said in one of the few good parts of Star Trek V, “You know that pain and guilt can’t be taken away with a wave of a magic wand. They’re the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain!” Perhaps not everyone would agree that they need it, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be better for it.

 

Best line:  (Mary, played by Kirsten Dunst) “’Blessed are the forgetful, for they get the better even of their blunders.’  Nietzsche. Beyond Good and Evil. Found it in my Bartlett’s.”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up (a darn close one)

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
589 Followers and Counting

 

Mission: Impossible III (2006)

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The thrill of a life that is lived on the edge
Lasts only as long as one’s love for the ledge.
Eventually, danger
Is no more a stranger,
And those once so thrilled
Can be left unfulfilled.

And yet who can blame them for normalcy’s dream,
For craving some quiet when life’s been a scream?
While risk has its place
In its white-knuckle pace,
Who wouldn’t wish for
Just a little bit more?
______________________

MPAA rating: PG-13

Now that I’ve gotten around to watching the third Mission: Impossible film, I finally see the unlikely trend that this series seems to have pulled off. Unlike most franchises, its sequels are getting better. Perhaps it was too early to tell that when J.J. Abrams’ third entry hit theaters in 2006, but Mission: Impossible III is easily the best MI so far.

Having shed his long-hair phase and Thandie Newton as his girlfriend-of-the-week, the Ethan Hunt in this threequel is far from the confident flirt in M:i-2; he’s now happily engaged to Julia (Michelle Monaghan) and content to train new agents rather than risk his life in the field, all while keeping Julia and her friends in the dark as to his top-secret career. However, he is soon drawn back to the field to rescue his captured protégé (Keri Russell) and stop a highly dangerous arms dealer (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

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Leave it to J.J. Abrams to once again reignite a series’ potential, and I bet it was this franchise stint that made him desirable to direct the Star Trek reboot three years later, aided by his frequent co-writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. From the very first intense scene, he sets the stakes high before flashing back to show how events led there, which isn’t the only Abrams trademark you may notice. (Who else revives characters by pounding on their chest?) Eschewing the over-emphasized slow-motion of its predecessor, this feels like the Mission: Impossible movie I’ve been waiting for. The first two had their defining moments, but M:i:III  has all the twists and turns you’d expect from a spy thriller while building to a surprisingly satisfying conclusion.

Ethan’s desire for a normal relationship and life makes him far more personable than his past appearances, and you can feel his desperation when that life is threatened. Likewise, the villain makes more of an impression, with Hoffman relishing and making the most of his coldly murderous role as black marketeer Owen Davian. One detail I especially liked was the revelation of how those famous face masks are made, including the spy trickery of copying someone’s voice, which is revealed to not be as fast and easy as the second film made it seem.

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As I said, this is a Mission: Impossible film done right. Despite the overly-complex plot and the occasional line of hackneyed dialogue, the twists and fast-paced action kept me entertained from start to finish. My VC even pronounced it as (probably) her favorite Tom Cruise movie. If the other films in the series are supposed to be better than this one, I can’t wait for more. Ghost Protocol, here I come!

Best line: (IMF leader Brassel) “Mr. Musgrave, please don’t interrupt me when I’m asking rhetorical questions.” (Although Ethan’s “I’m gonna die unless you kill me” comes close too.)

 

Rank: List-Worthy

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
589 Followers and Counting

 

Slowing Down

As some might have noticed, I’ve slowed down on blogging considerably. Between a family medical issue and my starting a new college class, it’s been hard to keep up with my usual schedule of movie-watching and writing.

Nevertheless, I just wanted to let everyone know that I’m still around and will post when I have time.  This slower schedule will probably last into January, but I at least want to finish up my Mission: Impossible marathon and my Blindspot series, which I’m behind on but making progress.

I hope everyone has a good Labor Day! Stay tuned; I’m far from done with this blog.

Flavors of Youth (2018)

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I’ve had the chance to learn and grow
From where I was ten years ago,
And though time’s neither fast nor slow,
It’s galloped past me even so.

I know,
I know,
I’m not that old.
Not old enough to be consoled
For past regrets and words untold
When still on destiny’s threshold.

Yet worry knows no age or race.
It’s but a trace time can’t erase,
Not even at its breakneck pace.
And such are truths we all must face
As past and future we embrace.
_____________________

Rating: TV-PG (nothing objectionable, just themes best appreciated by adults)

For those who loved Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name, it’s naturally a grueling wait for his next anticipated feature, but in the meantime, CoMix Wave Films, the production studio for Shinkai’s movies, has filled the gap nicely by teaming with the Chinese animation house Haoliners. In place of Shinkai, Flavors of Youth has three different directors, each delivering a dramatic entry for this Netflix anthology film. Surprisingly, the result is a satisfying substitute that boasts both visual beauty and honest emotion in equal measure (as well as a solid English dub).

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While the names and settings are clearly Chinese rather than Japanese, Flavors of Youth has all the aesthetic quality of a well-crafted anime film, and while Japanese animation can so often be associated with explosive battles and yelling, this belongs to the more introspective and relatable side of anime. The first of the three short stories revolves around a young man’s memories of the San Xian noodles he ate while growing up, which may seem overly simple, but the true-to-life details and poetic narration by narrator extraordinaire Crispin Freeman (of Haruhi Suzumiya fame) added to its impact. The second film was a bit less engaging for me, focusing on two sisters in the fashion world, but the story ended nicely and didn’t detract from the film overall. The third, though, entitled “Shanghai Love Story,” is especially affecting with its likable characters and sad irony, and any fan of Shinkai is bound to admire it.

While the themes are far from niche, I felt that the individual stories were aimed precisely at people like me, twenty-somethings uncertain about the future and nostalgic for good ol’ days which weren’t all that long ago yet seem to be fading before our eyes. The first story best encapsulated these sentiments and the way that memories and regrets always outlive their source. Cherished businesses close, loved ones die, and modern replacements never quite reach the glory of our recollections and hopes.

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Yet unlike some other films I could name (I’m looking at you, 5 Centimeters Per Second), Flavors of Youth doesn’t settle with being depressing and finds hope in the promise that comes with building off those precious memories. This anthology may fall that little bit short of greatness, but those who enjoyed Shinkai’s work, such as The Garden of Words, should not miss it; just don’t expect another Your Name, and certainly nothing supernatural. I feel like I’ve grown fonder of this film since first seeing it, thanks especially to an after-credits scene that barely tied the stories together, and it’s a gratifying sign that Shinkai’s influence is clearly spreading. There are several anime films I’m dying to see this year, especially Maquia and Mirai of the Future, so I’m grateful that Netflix supplied this wistful little film while I wait.

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
589 Followers and Counting

 

Mission: Impossible II (2000)

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The job of the IMF agent
Before he or she needs a coffin
Is mounting impossible missions
For heroes no danger can soften,
Yet lately the best of the bravest
Have been going rogue far too often.

I can’t speak to why these trained agents
Are letting their loyalty lapse,
More focused on garnering riches
Than keeping the world from collapse,
But IMF might try improving
Their benefits package perhaps.
_________________

MPAA rating: PG-13

Now for the second Mission: Impossible film, the one that seems to be widely considered the most inferior of the bunch. I can see why. Mission: Impossible II isn’t necessarily awful, but it’s highly inconsistent, only sometimes feeling like an actual M: I installment as opposed to a rip-off of ‘90s James Bond.

In this entry, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise in his thankfully brief long-haired phase) must vie against a rogue IMF agent (Dougray Scott) who aims to steal a deadly bio-engineered virus called Chimera.  I could tell early that this entry would have problems. We first see Ethan free-climbing a high rock formation in the Utah desert, and while it shows off Cruise’s impressive strength for stunts, it also inadvertently echoes that other worst-movie-in-its-series, Star Trek V, which also features Kirk free-climbing in Yosemite. After that, Ethan recruits a thief named Nyah (Thandie Newton) for his team and engages in some awkward scenes of innuendo and seduction that strengthen the James Bond comparison I made earlier and just don’t feel like Mission: Impossible.

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It’s not these faults that drag down M:I 2 the most; that can be summed up in two words: slow motion. I don’t know if this is a trademark of director John Woo or what, but the slow-mo scenes are distractingly frequent, from the long sultry looks exchanged when Ethan first sees Nyah to the mid-action interludes that are thrown in as if to say to the audience, “Look at this! Isn’t it cool?” Sometimes it is admittedly very cool, but there are plenty of other movies that have used slow-mo more judiciously. Except for The Matrix, it’s best when such scenes don’t draw attention to themselves.

I don’t mean to sound like I hated it. Around the midpoint, it does hit its stride with another spy heist that is even more like the one in National Treasure than the first M:I film. And the slow motion aside, the action scenes are still thrilling, while the face mask tactics are even more entertainingly clever, though I’m starting to wonder how those convincing face masks can be applied so quickly.

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There’s extra epicness to the music this time around, and the cast is strong as well, especially the returning uber-competence of Cruise and Ving Rhames and a surprising uncredited role for Anthony Hopkins; plus, I must mention a Lost alert for William Mapother (whose island role was named Ethan, oddly enough) as one of the villain’s henchmen. Despite the world-threatening perils, though, the plot feels strangely shallow, thanks mainly to the short-term chemistry of Thandie Newton, who I don’t believe is in the rest of the sequels. M:I 2 is a good effort, but it ultimately takes the series in a less interesting direction that I sincerely hope the other films will rectify.

Best line: (Mission Commander Swanbeck) “Mr. Hunt, this isn’t mission difficult, it’s mission impossible. ‘Difficult’ should be a walk in the park for you.”

 

Rank: Honorable Mention

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
588 Followers and Counting

 

Mission: Impossible (1996)

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Missions preventing or triggering wars
Are shrouded in subterfuge no one explores,
And those who enact them
Are quick to redact them
With names only spoken behind their closed doors.

Missions accomplished with such secrecy
Are kept as discreet as we need them to be.
And though you and I
Never know how or why,
Such missions are part of what keeps us all free.
__________________

MPAA rating: PG-13

It seems that any franchise I didn’t watch growing up simply has to work up enough buzz for me to finally catch up on it. I’d heard that the first three Mission: Impossible movies had mixed reviews, but with three critically acclaimed entries in more recent years, I think it’s finally time for me to see if Tom Cruise’s spy thrillers are all they’re cracked up to be. I was pleasantly surprised last year when I watched the latest Planet of the Apes trilogy, so I’m hoping for good things. My mission, if I choose to accept it, is to watch all six of the M:I films in the coming weeks and review each one before seeing the next, so that I don’t get confused on which explosion or double cross happened in which sequel. But you have to start with the beginning, and that means the 1996 original.

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Having never seen the 1960s-70s TV series on which it is based, I didn’t have any major expectations, aside from the famous theme music and the self-destructing tape that details a mission, if they choose to accept it. (On a side note, I always thought the tape would cause some big explosion, not just go poof with a little smoke. Isn’t it fun to learn how wrong you are sometimes?) The man listening to that tape is Jim Phelps, played by Jon Voight, but despite the presence of Voight and other stars like Emilio Estevez and Kristin Scott Thomas, we all know Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt is the star, which becomes even clearer after the mission backfires and shaves down the team considerably. Now suspected as a mole behind the sabotage, Hunt goes on the run to figure out who the real criminal mastermind is.

I suppose I’ll just come out and say it: I liked it. The British have James Bond, and Ethan Hunt is sort of his American counterpart, just with less womanizing and more disguises and hacking. As a product of the ‘90s, the technology in this first Mission: Impossible is unavoidably dated, with spies fighting over floppy disks and a hidden video early on that seemed almost like the quality of a parody. But it also has a twisty plot and the same kind of heist-style infiltration by which my beloved National Treasure was clearly inspired. Though most of the film lacks the daring stunts that the series has become known for, the climax boasts some especially thrilling (albeit CGI) action with a bullet train and a helicopter.

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I do see why my parents never got me into the series early on because this first one apparently trampled all over the original they remembered, particularly the character of Jim Phelps. Those with nostalgia for the original series will likely take offense, but I as a newcomer found a lot to enjoy. I’m still not convinced whether this qualifies as List-Worthy in my book, but I’m excited to continue the series and do think that it has the potential to join my favorites. Now for the supposedly bad one, Mission: Impossible II….

Best line: (tech guy Jack Harmon, describing a gum-like explosive) “Hasta lasagna, don’t get any on ya.”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up (for now)

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
588 Followers and Counting