REVIEW: Mission: Impossible III (JJ Abrams, 2006)

There is no better instance than Mission: Impossible 3 to coin the tagline, "This time it's personal." Not only are the stakes elevated to greater proportions when our rogue hero, Ethan Hunt's, fiance is threatened, but Tom Cruise himself has been working to make this idea come to life for years now - it's become quite personal. Getting the production to mesh with actors and directors coming and going was beginning to seem like an impossible mission in and of itself, but finally J.J. Abrams, the man behind two hit television shows I've never watched, took the helm and made that baby work! The final product is an impressive and surprisingly unique actioner that is by far the best in its franchise.

M:I:III is Cruise-driven from many aspects, obviously so for people who followed its venture through production limbo. What I found fun during the film beyond its adrenaline-surging sequences though were all the throwbacks to Cruisers of the past! I may be reaching on a few of these, but I was getting some wind from the likes of Vanilla Sky (the opening credits party scene was permeated with David Aames charm,) Eyes Wide Shut (the "I'll tell you everything" line,) Top Gun (motorcycle shots)and even The Last Samurai (shouting in Shanghai,) among others. I've also heard that once it comes out on DVD, people are going to play drinking games with it, taking a shot every time someone says "Rabbit's Foot" - it would definitely make for an interesting night.

That's not all the fun you'll get out of M:I:III though - not in the least. I have honestly never before been so into an action film that my heart is racing, my body is tense and I'm completely enveloped in the cinematic experience like I was here. It helped that it was one of my most highly anticipated films of the year, but J.J. Abrams was not kidding around - this is a seriously well-made movie featuring incredible effects, jaw-dropping stunt work, nuanced performances from a cool-as-an-igloo cast, perfect cinematography, eclectic and effective editing and some crane shots that would put Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg to shame. The action is just about non-stop, and if you think you've seen it all in the trailers, babe, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Sure there are the killer money shots, primarily the famous one featuring Cruise being blown sideways into a car, but just about every high action moment could be considered a tentpole shot for most other films in the genre. The premises and situations of the Mission: Impossible films are always preposterous, but somehow Abrams, in a completely different direction from John Woo's Mission: Impossible 2, makes the world delightfully tangible.

As mentioned above, the cast is great. Most notably we've got the thankfully (and finally) now-well-known Philip Seymour Hoffman playing an apathetic slime who we just adore to hate. Michelle Monaghan is very well cast in the role of the hero's lover, while Keri Russell is very nice to have around (her role is... well... just see the movie. It's good stuff.) Jonathan Rhys-Meyers plays a role that basically anyone could have played, but it's just plain cool that Rhys-Meyers is in its shoes. Then we've got Billy Crudup, Laurence Fishbourne and several others that flesh out a very good action ensemble.

So is it a must-see? Of course not. But if you're either a Cruise fan, a fan of the first two films or you're just in the mood for a summer blockbuster, M:I:III is the perfect popcorn movie, packed to the gills with top-of-the-line action and excitement with a healthy dose of hilarious comic relief.


REVIEW: Laurel Canyon (Lisa Cholodenko, 2003)

Sam is a studying psychiatrist whose move closer to the hospital in which he'll be serving his residency brings him to live with his mother, Jane. With him is his fiance, Alex, who, to Sam's dismay, becomes enamored with Jane's free rock n' roll lifestyle. An excellent ensemble cast ushers to life this quest to find balance between decadence and moderation.

On the surface, Laurel Canyon is a simple story about a love pentagon, but when we look deeper into the ingredients, the re-treading of writer/director Lisa Cholodenko's (High Art, Cavedweller) screenplay brings other intricacies to light. We are presented with morally parallel characters who we can relate to on respective levels, and from that platform we take off contrasting the core pleasures of life with the security of established society.

Production Designer for the film is Catherine Hardwicke, director of Thirteen and notable production designer for such films as Tank Girl, Three Kings, and Vanilla Sky. Her work definitely shows, as Laurel Canyon's visual style is a pleasure to look at. The direction could stand a stronger spice, but Cholodenko herself admits that she was caught up in her own writing and prefers to work solely as a director for someone else's script.

The five key roles are accomplished with comprehensive, solid performances. Christian Bale, like it or not one of the most talented actors working today, delivers yet another uncompromised character. Natascha McElhone continues to be one of the better female performers out there while her character's competition, Kate Beckinsale, proves to all the non-believers that she can indeed act - very well at that. The unlikely rock star is played by emerging star Alessandro Nivola alongside the consistently impressive Frances McDormand, who attains stellar sexiness despite occasionaly reminding me of Willem Dafoe.

Laurel Canyon may not appeal to everyone, but it has potential to really strike a chord with some. What it certainly does is bring up some provoking issues about some of the most important things in life. I enjoyed it and if you're at a loss, it's well worth a rent.