[Movie Review] Mission: Impossible II [M:I-2]

I-2

Starring: Tom Cruise, Thandie Newton, Dougray Scott, Ving Rhames, Richard Roxburgh
Director: John Woo
Genre: Action
Cert: 15
Released: 2000

Your mission, should you chose to accept it, is to sit through “M:I-2” and enjoy it. Phew, not sure I can. I mean, I saw the first one after all.

Ethan Hunt (Cruise – “Mission: Impossible”, “Jerry Maguire”, “Magnolia”) is a man with a mission once again. A former operative, Sean Ambrose (Scott – “Deep Impact”, “Regeneration”, “Twin Town”), has stolen a deadly virus and antidote with the intention of holding the entire continent of Australia to ransom. Ambrose’s former lover and accomplished thief, Nyah Nordoff-Hall (Newton – “Beloved”, “Jefferson in Paris”, “Interview with the Vampire”), goes undercover in a bid to provide Hunt and his fellow operatives, Luther (Rhames – “Mission: Impossible”, “Pulp Fiction”, “Entrapment”, “Con Air”) and Billy (John Polson – “Sirens”), with the information neceesary to recover the virus. But Ambrose is a wily spy and Hunt faces a battle of wits with the former agent.

“Mission: Impossible” was not a good movie, bottom line. But “M:I-2” succeeds against all the odds in being a hugely enjoyable romp thanks to the fresh and innovative stunts and relentless action sequences. The key to all this is undoubtedly director John Woo (“Face/Off”, “Hard Target”, “Broken Arrow”) who uses familiar tricks such as slow motion, highly chereographed sequences and the use of mirrors and other peripherals to emphasise tense stand-offs.

The storyline itself is television standard fare – villain steals virus, threatens to kill everyone, hero must catch him before it’s too late. It really doesn’t get any more complicated than that and for once it doesn’t impede the impact that the film makes as the lack of thought required allows you to just get immersed in the exciting action that permeates the movie.

Performances are not great. Cruise does a solid job as you might expect but Newton is portrayed as weak and helpless for the movie’s own ends which is a shame. Dougray Scott plays a moderate villain but he doesn’t have the evil turn that is required in roles such as his, and that ‘bad-guy’ image is better displayed by Richard Roxburgh who plays Dougray’s South African sidekick, Hugh Stamp.

The DVD version of the movie is superb for obvious reasons (enhanced picture and sound) and includes wonderful special features such as interviews with the cast and crew, an in-depth look at the major stunts in the movie (many of which Cruise did himself) and the hilarious Mission Improbable parody that was filmed for the MTV movie awards.

Don’t let the first movie put you off watching this, it’s well worth it.

3halfstar

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[Movie Review] Memento

MementoStarring: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Stephen Toblowsky
Director: Christopher Nolan
Genre: Drama
Cert: 18
Released: 2000

Guy Pearce is now a far cry from being speedo wearing Mike, in the Australian TV soap, Neighbours where he spent 4 years until 1990. After huge success in “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” and “LA Confidential” on the big screen, the confident Aussie turns up in yet another non-mainstream flick, “Memento”.

Pearce plays Leonard, an afflicted young man on the search for his wife’s murderer. Unfortunately his affliction is a huge handicap – he suffers from short term memory loss, and is unable to create new memories therefore only having recollections for a few minutes at a time. He can get to the end of a conversation and forget how it started. To help himself, he relies on scribbled notes, a selection of polaroids and a series of tattoos which record the most important information to help him move his investigation on.

He is assisted by Teddy (Pantoliano – “The Matrix”, “Bound”, “US Marshals”, “The Fugitive”) and Natalie (Moss – “The Matrix”) whom Leonard must re-discover every time he meets them. But nothing is as it seems, and as the story unfolds, we discover more about Teddy and Natalie, and their possible alternative reasons for helping Leonard.

And that’s where the film comes into it’s own. In a unique and intriguing manner, the movie opens up at the end of the story and rewinds using a series of short scenes which help us to piece together the mystery. Imagine starting a video tape at the end, rewinding ten minutes and then watching the climax, before rewinding 20 minutes and watching until the point that you first started watching, before rewinding a further 20 mins, and so on. This might sound confusing, and it is. But this approach adds to the movie in no small way, as you end up as confused and disorientated as Leonard.

The focal point for Leonard (and as it turns out, for the direction of the storyline) is a simple tattoo that says “remember Sammy Jankis”. When Leonard worked as an insurance investigator before the “incident”, he investigated a case were a victim in a car crash (Stephen Toblowsky – “Groundhog Day”, “Wedlock”, “The Glimmer Man”) developed the same condition as Leonard now has. It is a puzzle as to why this is such an important memory, but it becomes clear as the smoke clears in the climax (which is of course actually the beginning of the story!).

The performances are nothing short of excellent. Pearce once again shows his potential to become an A-list actor like "Have you seen this boy?"fellow Aussie and “LA Confidential” star, Russell Crowe, by delivering a calculated and convincing performance in the lead role. An interesting observation is how Pearce’s character admits to Natalie that he cannot feel strong emotions as he can’t remember anything to be angry or worried about. While you might think that this makes Pearce’s character easier to play or one-dimensional, it does in fact bring a lot more mystery and intrigue to his character, and subsequently make you wonder what he really is like. Is he really the swanky, wealthy former insurance investigator, or is he perhaps a shadier character. If Leonard doesn’t know who he is, how are we supposed to?

Also delivering strong turns are Pantoliano and Moss. Moss is a relative newcomer who shot to stardom in Sci-Fi blockbuster, “The Matrix”, and her strong-headed character, Natalie, can be both sympathised with and loathed. Similarly Pantoliano, an experienced veteran, has a tricky job portraying the mysterious, Teddy, but carries it off with great success.

Normally when a storyline is directed as jagged as this one is, you’d be baying for the directors blood, but it is of course to the film’s credit that the story hops around as much as it does. Moving from the end to the beginning is maybe not an entirely unique idea, but the intricate way in which Christopher Nolan does this allows the story to develop with maximum interest and mystery.

That’s not to say the story is without it’s holes – in fact it may be fundamentally flawed. Although it is quite easy to follow as piece by piece unfolds, the final revelation actually leaves more questions than answers, and a mere 12 hours after I finished watching and I currently write, more questions reveal themselves all the time.

Overall, the dissatisfaction of the last 15 minutes is not enough to leave overall dissatisfaction. Maybe not a movie on a par with some of the years best but it will have people talking for some time in a similar way to how “The Usual Suspects” and “The Sixth Sense” did.

3halfstar