MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - SPY HARD - DRAGONHEART
EDDIE - TWISTER - COLD COMFORT FARM
Tom Cruise laid his $20-million salary on the line to produce and star in "Mission Impossible," the estimated $70-million remake of the classic 60s TV series which starred Peter Graves as Impossible Mission Force leader Jim Phelps.
Set in post-Cold War Prague, this modern-day IM Force takes on the mission to stop a renegade Russian agent, named Job, from getting the master list of all CIA agents operating in eastern Europe and selling it to the highest bidder.
The mission is compromised and all the IMF members are killed, except for Ethan Hunt, played by Cruise, who the Agency formally disavows, throwing him out on his ear and accusing him of selling out his team.
Hunt puts together his own, private, IM force, with other disavowed agents Ving Rhames and Jean Reno, and thus begins a story I'm not even going to try to explain.
Hunt figures out he's the key suspect in the missions failure by his boss, played by Henry Czerny; then, with his new team, makes plans to uncover Job, and exonerate himself.
My main complaint, and it's one of many, with "Mission Impossible" is that it lacks any of the character of the original series. There, you had a team of good guys using their technical and professional talents to overcome astronomical odds and defeat the bad guys and their nefarious plans.
Here, there's none of the good guy/bad guy, just varying shades of bad guy.
I won't mention the big twist, but let me say that the story not only departs from the positive nature of the show, it gets darn confusing as it unfolds.
This is the second big problem with the film: the story borders on the incoherent at times, with characters and story making little sense with their motivations and goals.
To "Mission Impossible"'s credit, the two big set pieces, particularly the break-in to CIA headquarters, are beautifully done. The break-in is, artistically, on a par with the HAL scenes in "2001: A Space Odyssey." Cruise displays a physical grace that he brought out in The Firm. In this scene, he's almost balletic.
The big finale is pretty darn exciting, too.
Unfortunately, two scenes and a screwed up script, plus a big plot disappointment, do not a recommendation make. It takes more than that.
I give "Mission Impossible" a C+.
The second big disappointment of the summer season, "Mission Impossible" has two good scenes in a two hour film. The best scene is a break-in to a CIA computer at Langley Headquarters where Cruise and Co. have to get by a voice print, six-digit code, retinal scan, double electric key card and then not set off voice, temperature and pressure guages! And the air conditioning duct is guarded by a laser beam! Suspense is built as Cruise is suspended in the secure room like a marionette. The second good scene is the climatic ending with a train dragging a helicopter while it appears that the rest of the remaining cast cavorts atop the train--you've seen most of this scene in the film's trailer which is far superior to the film itself.
The rest of the film almost amounts to filler--for an action film, there's very little of it. A gag based on Cruise's disguises is overused and unbelievable (effects range from obvious makeup to an obvious morph effect).
Most of a good cast is wasted here - the usually interesting and charasmatic Jean Reno ("The Professional"), Ving Rhames ("Dave," "Pulp Fiction") Kristin Scott-Thomas ("Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Angels and Insects") and Emannuelle Beart ("Manon of the Spring") barely register as the script gives them little to do. Vanessa Redgrave manages to carve out an interesting character (Max, Job's employer) in two brief scenes. Jon Voight is serviceable, although he was far more intriguing in the recent "Things To Do in Denver When You're Dead." Tom Cruise struts his usual stuff with a new haircut.
Most disappointingly of all, the script does a major disservice to the original TV characters which I can't reveal without blowing the purportedly surprise ending.
"Spy Hard" is the new Leslie Neilson entry in the Abrams-Zucker genre, although they themselves weren't behind this one. Neilson, is Dick Steele, aka Agent WD40, out to stop the evil General Rancor, played by Andy Griffith, who Steele believed he had offed years before. Come to find out, Rancor survived but lost both arms in order to provide joke fodder. Steele turns out to be a little less clueless than his "Naked Gun"'s Drebin, but you wouldn't know it when he meets Veronique played by Nicolette Sheridan.
This one's a real disappointment - it only registered a few snickers from me at best. Neilson manages to come through this one unscathed and although I was prepared to miss Priscilla Presley, I was surprised to see how good a turn at comedy Nicolette Sheridan provides - too bad the script doesn't give her more to work with.
"Spy Hard" has little to do with "Die Hard." This one takes wide aim with shots at James Bond, "In the Line of Fire," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "Speed," "True Lies," "Sister Act" and "Pulp Fiction." However, instead of parody, we mostly get imitation which mostly just isn't funny. A pony-tailed Neilson and black-wigged Sheridan do the dance scene from "Pulp Fiction"--why? To prove they're cool?
Only three things worked for me in this film--Neilson's driver who arrives on the scene in ever-changing vehicles appropriate to the occasion, Weird Al Jankowitz' opening credit sequence and theme song, and Marcia Gay Harden's rather amusing take on Moneypenny from the Bond series. We're talking about 5 minutes run time of an 80-some-odd minute film.
Requisite cameos from the likes of Robert Culp, Mr. T, Fabio, Ray Charles, Hulk Hogan and Dr. Joyce "has-she-no-shame" Brothers.
"Dragonheart," directed by Rob Cohen, portrays the relationship between a brave, but disillusioned, knight of honor, Bowen, played by Dennis Quaid, and his companion, an 18-foot-high, 43-foot-long dragon, the last of his race, named Draco, voiced by Sean Connery.
Through a gross misunderstanding, Bowen mistakes the beneficence of a dragon who once saved his master, Prince Einon. Believing the dragon to be an evil influence who corrupted his lord, Bowen vows to wipe out every dragon from the face of the earth.
Bowen is extremely successful, killing all but one, the last dragon, Draco. Almost too late, Bowen realizes his error, joining forces with Draco to, with hope, change the course of history and defeat the wicked King Einon.
Draco, following one of their scams, meets the feisty Kara, played by Dina Myer, daughter of a former rebel leader, and shows just how charming dragons really are; later, he and Bowen lay it on the line as they join their resources and bravery to confront the evil Einon.
I had my qualms before going to go see "Dragonheart." When I first saw the previews, I thought, Good God, this is a blatant use of Sean Connery's draw to get an audience.
I am more than happy to report that I was completely wrong in my pre-judgment of the film.
"Dragonheart" is a pretty darn good Sword-and-Sorcerer yarn, except there's a dragon instead of a sorcerer.
Dennis Quaid, despite attempts to make his voice gravelly so he doesn't sound completely American --does anyway. I had no problem with his perf, though.
Dina Myer, though a bit too pretty for the heroine, is physically capable and athletic. Romantic interest is overlooked.
The locales in eastern Europe lend just the right feel to the film.
But, the real star of the film, and the glue that holds it together, is the wonderful combination of ILM excellent dragon F/X AND the perfect addition of Sean Connery's voice as Draco. This combo catapults this from adequate film to a fine selection to take the kids to.
I give this a rock solid B+ and highly recommend it as family fare.
"Eddie" stars Whoopi Goldberg as the title character, Edwina Franklin, a rabid NY Knicks fan with season tickets in the nose-bleed section. Eddie drives a limo and one day picks up an eccentric Texan, Wild Bill Burgess, at the airport who unbeknowst to her is the new owner of the Knicks. Wild Bill, played by Frank Langella, is amused by Eddie's commentary on how to fix the Knicks' problems. Ever the showman, Bill comes up with an honorary coach contest and arranges it so that Whoopi stands a good chance of winning - and she does, with a free throw. When Wild Bill has a clash of the wills with the Knicks' real coach, he's out and Eddie's in.
I really liked "Eddie." This is the perfect vehicle for Whoopi Goldberg. She really makes you believe she could command the court in Madison Square Garden. "Eddie" was not originally written for a woman, but was adapted as a vehicle for the Knicks-loving Whoopi and it fits like a glove.
"Eddie" doesn't always take the paths you'd expect. For one thing, Eddie's actually reluctant to take on the coaching job, believing she's not qualified. The slumping Knicks don't start to win for quite a while after she becomes their coach, either.
The real NBA players who make up the film's fictional Knicks are surprisingly natural, particularly John Sally as the player who's usually benched at 32 because of his bad knees - Eddie builds the team back around him. Also quite good in an understated way is Richard Jenkins as the assistant coach.
Yeah, "Eddie" is pretty formulaic, but it's well paced, entertaining and has some real warmth to it.
While I recommend "Eddie" as a decent Whoopi Goldberg vehicle--she is that rare actor who can play male or female roles, but always being Whoopi--the silly turn of the story in the last 20 minutes kept this from being the warm-hearted, feel-good movie the first 70 minutes developed, and, that I wanted it to finally be.
The plethora of NBA players do OK as the beleaguered losing Knicks and their competition. John Salley of the Chicago Bulls is my favorite as Nate Wilson, the injured heart of the team. And, Malik Seally of the LA Clippers is pretty good as the overpaid superstar who learns humility and the value of being a team player. We also get to see Celtic Rick Fox in the lineup of players.
The basketball stuff is, as expected, well choreographed and shot, though I liked the honesty of the ball playing in a smaller film from earlier this year, "Sunset Park."
But, as I said, they had the feel good film of the early summer, but blew it. I can only give "Eddie" a B-.
For our next film, "Twister," we figure you've pretty much seen all the hype and hoopla, so we've decided to take advantage of a tape provided by Industrial Light and Magic, showing the making of the what seems the now-famous barn and twister scene.
- first, they take the pretty mundane live action sequence to give the scene its perspective and point of view
- next, the computer graphic wire-frame of the tornado and barn are developed in their basic form.
- then, the wire-frame image is combined with the live action sequence to provide basic scene.
- other Computer Graphic Imagery, or CGI, is used to add the debris and destruction of the barn as the twister passes.
- only after the basic elements are developed does the CGI team put the finishing touches on the exciting details that bring the scene to life.
- finally, all these elements, including the sound, are combined to give us an example of Hollywood magic and one hell of a twister, to boot.
"Twister" an excellent example of what the Hollywood F/X blockbuster has become--all show and very little substance.
Based on the Michael Crighton story and, like his last hit, "Jurassic Park, " "Twister" has no story to hold it together--just great F/X. And, F/X are not enough, unless you happen to be a sexy T-rex or some really pissed raptors.
Twisters are scary, not sexy.
You've probably heard or seen it already. The story that is supposed to hold us is about the two leads as a couple facing divorce. Hubby Bill Paxton and nearly estranged wife Helen Hunt have no spark and definitely do not put anything special, except for lots of physical abuse, into the roles.
Although I've never been a fan, I kept saying poor Jamie Gertz for her less than thankless role as the other woman who obviously does'nt have a chance and she's forced to chase tornadoes, too.
The whole bad-guy-corporate-scientists-trying-to-beat-the-intrepid-little- band-of-storm-chasers-in-being-first-to-study-a-twister-from-the-inside thing is very stupid. Looks good with its fleet of shiny, black vehicles racing after the twisters, but the premise is just dumb. I thought these guys are supposed to be scientists, not gunslingers. Besides, their expected demise is as predictable as can be.
One big question I had about twisters, and I guess the National Weather Service had the same question: Do twisters really sound like a big wild animal roaring? The Weather Service didn't think so, either.
Come on, Hollywood, try tacking a believable story on your next F/X extravaganza. You might be surprised by the response.
On second thought, with about $170 million in the till already, I guess they really don't have to care what you or I think.
Technically interesting, but emotionally or philosophically, this is a real turkey. The combination of the two gets it a C+, with the twisters earning the plus.
Here we go - another summer theme park ride movie. The effects are outstanding, but not as jaw-dropping as those of "Jurassic Park." Don't look for that flying tractor tire from the trailer either--the official line is that it was an early shot that wasn't good enough for the final cut--huh? That trailer was one of the marketting coups of the year!
"Twister" is also fairly well paced--there certainly aren't any long, dry patches as a twister seems to show up about every 10 minutes or so.
The likeable Helen Hunt is almost embarrassingly bad early on in this film, and then, after a while, it just doesn't matter any more. Jami Gertz, as Paxton's new fiance, is merely a plot device--there's no believable reason why they'd be together.
The story is thin, to say the least. Hunt and Paxton's device 'Dorothy', which they have to get into the "suck zone" is pretty lame--as is the villain--Cary Elwes forgetting to twirl his moustache here.
All in all though, I liked this one marginally more than "Mission Impossible." It's still somewhat fun looking for the movie in-jokes, not to mention the flying cows!
COLD COMFORT FARM
"Cold Comfort Farms" is taken from the novel which is sort of a 1930's satirical take on a Jane Austen character. Kate Beckinsdale is the newly orphaned Flora, a young woman of no means who's determined to sponge off her relatives until she can use her life experience to write a novel in her 50s. Leaving the touchstone of a London friend played by Joanna Lumley, Flora decides to stay with her relatives at Cold Comfort Farm. Ever thereafter referred to as "Robert Post's child," Flora is determined and meddlesome enough to change the course of everyone's laughably cursed life at the horrifically rundown farm.
There are no real surprises here, but there are charming characters and detail. Beckinsdale makes much more of an impression than she did in "Much Ado About Nothing." She's an overly florid writer who refers to the sun as 'the golden orb' in everything she writes. However, on the flip side she's pretty no-nonsense and direct and knows how to go about getting what she wants (which she eventually discovers, is not to be a writer).
We'll probably hear about and see a lot more of Rufus Sewall after his turn here as the earthy and lusty Seth. Stephen Fry's also a standout as the London writer taking a turn in the country who becomes besotted with Flora but expresses it in the most inappropriate ways.
"Cold Comfort Farm" is a place where granny won't leave her room because she 'saw something in the wood shed' as a small girl (even if she can't remember what it was) and the hired man won't use his new sponge to wash the dishes when he can keep that clean and continue to use his twig. It's an enjoyable place to visit.
While I liked "Cold Comfort Farm," I don't think it really deserves the extremely high praise it's been getting. My guess is that the critics and film buffs are so starved for anything that has a semblance of intelligence that they praise this a bit too much.
That being said, "Cold Comfort Farm" is a charming little fairy tale with individual supporting acting jobs that help to lend the film the quirkiness it strives for. Each character, from Ian McKellan's fire-and-brimstone preacher to Rufus Sewell as a randy womanizer, and Eileen Atkins as a really depressed family matriarch, all work well, individually.
Unfortunately, they all interact with Kate Breckinsale's Flora, not each other. This keeps it from being, for me, a great film. It's good, indeed, but not great.
Flora is, essentially, the fairy godmother of this weird family, granting their wishes, perceived or not, until the big finale, where Flora leaves with a flourish.
With her motto, I like to organize things and tidy up, the essence of "Cold Comfort Farm" is summed up: its a nice tidy little film that is certainly a pleasant departure from the Hollywood dreck we're being subjected to so far this summer.
Its one of the better things John Schlessingers' done in recent years.
I give it a solid B.
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