Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Mission: Impossible -- Episode 24: War Games


To Watch: Click Here

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
A militaristic general in a "middle European" country plans to attack a neighboring country under the guise of military exercises, aka war games.  He has a bent toward astrology, so Shannon pretends to be a royal astrologist and gets him to admit where the missiles are kept.  As Max and Nicholas defuse the missiles, Grant hacks into the war games computer system and overrides the attack.  

Memorable Quote:
Missed a couple of bumps back there.  ~Max

Highlight:
Max's capture and escape in the trunk was dramatic and compelling.  Always interesting when something goes wrong with the initial plan and the team has to adapt. 

Lowlight:
It's silly at the end how much latitude the team has to move around the base.  Once the general starts flipping out, Grant climbs down unnoticed from behind the map and leaves the bunker with Nicholas and Jim.  Then they meet Max and Shannon in a car out front without a word from the many soldiers in the area.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • At first I thought the chauffeur who Jim exchanges coded phrases with in the beginning was the soldier who MacGyver spares in To Be a Man, but I checked IMDB and that's not the case.
  • Our third straight episode involving an overly ambitious military leader!
  • You'd think the general would be suspicious of Jim and Nicholas (pretending to be UN representatives) considering that his men captured a spy (Max) on the same day that they showed up.  Wouldn't he at least ask to see some papers?  And it's surprising that the rogue general would spend time accommodating the UN to begin with.
  • And how does Shannon sell herself as a member of the royal family that no one's ever heard of?  Perhaps this spycraft thing is easier than we think.
  • I like how Grant hides behind the giant map, even if it's unclear how he is able to hack so easily into the controls. 
  • How did the country's leader get to the base so fast after seeing the news report?

Final Analysis:
Like the last two episodes, this one was not spectacular but better than most of Season 1.  The general was a little too goofy for my liking, but there were some good moments and I wasn't pining for it to be over (there's a ringing endorsement!).  I'm ranking it 7 out of 24, right in the same area as the other Season 2 episodes thus far.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Mission: Impossible -- Episode 23: Countdown


To Watch: Click Here

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
A general in a Far East country aims to gain power by detonating a nuclear bomb and taking out his country's government.  He recruits a female assassin to arm the bomb, but her loyalty is only to "The Holy One," an exiled religious leader who she wants to see return home.  The IMF team tricks her into thinking that The Holy One is in town and threatened by the bomb so that she will try and stop it.

Memorable Quote:
This ambulance needs a doctor.  ~Grant

Highlight:
I liked the scene in the hospital room where Grant is in the same room as Su Lin (no relation to Sue Ling) and pretending to be a patient.  Grant is a versatile character ably played by Phil Morris, and I find him to be the lifeblood of the team and the series.

Lowlight:
There were a few plot holes in this one, but one that stood out to me was the team's use of the hospital ward. Jim says, "As far as the hospital staff are concerned, we're here to set up an inoculation program."  Really, Jim?  You stroll into a hospital in a foreign country and talk about setting up an inoculation program and the hospital will just say, "Sure, go ahead, and we don't need see any information on what you're doing and we won't check up on you at all."

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Our first shared Mission Impossible / MacGyver episode title!
  • What's the point of pretending to shoot Max as the ambulance driver?
  • The general's really going to set off a nuclear bomb in his own country?  And why is he still in the city right before the bomb is about to go off?
  • I like Max's little fold-up knockout gun.  If I were a nonviolent secret agent, I'd opt for one of those over MacGyver's method of punching them out.
  • The bomb is being housed in what looks to be a heavily guarded facility, but after Su Lin gets shot, Max radios Grant and tells him to get out of there -- and in the next scene we see Grant back in the hospital base, so it must have been an easy escape.

Conversation:
Julie Ow, who played Su Lin, is currently producing an urban teen cooking competition show called Teen Chef USA and looking for distribution, so if you're in the business and want to carry it, drop her a line!

Yes, lots of great memories and thanks for reaching out.  Phil Morris was wonderful to work with along with Peter Graves. I had watched Peter in the original MI as a child, so I was thrilled to meet and work with him. Phil is a very giving and knowledgable actor and put me at ease.  Phil and I were handcuffed together for a portion of this episode which was a lot of fun.  We also had a fight scene and Phil "let" me beat him up!  Filmed in Melbourne, Australia near Chinatown, I ate some of the best black bean sauce chicken's feet ever!  Some of the Australian Chinese background actors thought it was so unusual seeing my Chinese face combined with hearing my American accent. Director Brian Trenchard-Smith had a great train scene in the episode too! Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa plays such a scary bad guy, and he is such a friendly, supportive fellow actor in person. Thanks for taking me down memory lane, Nick.

Final Analysis:
Despite some critiques, I liked this one and it held my interest throughout (which is more than I could say for many of the first season episodes), and I enjoyed the interplay between Su Lin and Grant.  Season 2 continues its good start, as I'm ranking this one 5 out of 23.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Mission: Impossible -- Episode 22: Command Performance


To Watch: Click Here

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
A thief steals a historic cross that also contains incriminating information about a rogue Balkan defense minister.  Before dying, the thief contacts a priest, and the defense minister imprisons the priest with the aim of getting the cross back.  The IMF team must rescue the priest and retrieve the cross, all while the circus is in town.

Memorable Quote:
Who are you people?  ~Father Vallis
We're the good guys.  ~Nicholas

Highlight:
I liked the part where they figured out, mostly thanks to Shannon, what the significance of the number 1769 was (which the thief wrote in blood on the church floor before dying). It was reminiscent of the scene in MI1 when Ethan deciphers the clue in the Book of Job.  Though I do have to wonder, given that the thief talked shortly before he died, why not just tell the priest, "It's under the eagle!"

Fun tangent about eagle statues: when my dad was a little kid, like 8-10 years old, my Grandma Sweedo would sometimes go down to Philadelphia to shop and she would let my dad wander around downtown Philly by himself.  There was a statue of an eagle in John Wanamaker's department store, and she would tell him, "Let's meet under the eagle's ass" at whatever time. That was Grandma Sweedo.

Lowlight:
It was silly and unnecessary to the plot for the cross to have some incriminating evidence hidden inside it.  How did it get in there, and why didn't Savitch (the defense minister) remove it when the cross was in the museum?  And the idea of "evidence against a corrupt military man" reminds me of The Gauntlet -- "if only we could get pictures of the dictator in action, he will lose all of his power!"

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • The episode gets off to a good start with the valuable cross (slightly reminiscent of Indiana Jones's Cross of Coronado), the bad military guy, and the prison castle on a hill (slightly reminiscent of Good Knight MacGyver).  Though I am surprised that the soldiers couldn't find the cross by retracing the thief's steps considering that he didn't get too far before he died.
  • Another Ethan Hunt reference as Grant and Max could have used Ethan's climbing skills while scaling the cliff.
  • Last episode we had the perfume-smelling laser, and this episode we have the "thing you put inside the phone that is smart enough to hear what the other person is saying and respond in a fake voice with something that makes sense."
  • Savitch sure doesn't care about accidentally killing his captain.  "Cheap trick," he mutters softly.
  • Surprising that the ringmaster is not upset or suspicious of Phelps after Phelps gives him a drink and suddenly he can no longer speak.
  • The circus escape is fun (I'm always up for a zip line) but also unnecessary -- they dress up like clowns and come under the big top only to make a dramatic escape when they could have just gone straight to the helicopter without going into the circus tent.  And what happened to the 25 or so soldiers who showed up at the circus with Savitch?

Final Analysis:
All in all, an entertaining episode.  I wouldn't call it great, but it was good enough to be at the top of Tier 2 and at 5 out of 22 in my rankings.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Mission: Impossible -- Episode 21: The Princess


To Watch: Click Here

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
A princess of a small European country is targeted for assassination by a group called the Red Guard that dislikes her western influence on the prince. The Guard hires an experienced assassin code-named Coyote who infiltrates the IMF team's hideout and shoots Shannon, critically injuring her.  Now the team must stop Coyote from completing her mission, with their only known clue to her identity that she is a woman.

Memorable Quote:
Did you guys buy me all these?  ~Shannon
Well now just how many boyfriends do you need?  ~Phelps
Mmm, I suppose four [is] enough.  ~Shannon

Highlight:
The spectrometer scent identifier is crazy as bananas, but I loved it.  So there's a machine that you can use to fire a laser at a woman from a distance and it picks up her scent, and then the machine compares it to a benchmark scent? And Grant just happened to have this machine with him on this mission?  Nevertheless, it made for a great final scene as Grant scanned the room looking for a match and only found it when Coyote walked in front of the scanner.

Interestingly, once I saw the perfume scanner, I got a major case of deja vu.  I haven't seen this episode in almost 30 years, but somehow this part was familiar, and I even had a notion of Coyote walking in the path of the scanner.  Amazing how memories can remain untapped in the mind for so long. 

Lowlight:
I didn't understand why from Caron's perspective it was necessary to go along with Nicholas's plan to steal an armored car if he had already hired an assassin.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Caron, the Red Guard leader, blows up his accomplice along with the money that he just gave him -- I'm guessing that money was fake, then.
  • Phelps is really rocking the outfits early in this episode -- first a large bright yellow sweater, and then a gray suit with white turtleneck ensemble.
  • It shouldn't be that easy to go undercover as a Hollywood producer that no one's ever heard of.
  • I had thought that the guy Nicholas meets in the bar was the assassin, but turns out he's the Red Guard leader, Caron, who has hired the assassin Coyote.  When Phelps shoots Nicholas (with blanks), Caron is surprisingly shocked at seeing someone get shot in cold blood.
  • Funny exchange at 26:35 mark where Jim laments the dearth of witnesses to Coyote's assassinations, to which Grant responds that the killings are all done in public in front of thousands of people.
  • Jim says at the hospital that if Shannon didn't push him aside, "it would have been me," but Shannon never pushed him aside (I went back and watched).  It's also hard to see how Shannon would have survived a direct shot to the chest.  And why was the team not prepared for Coyote to come to the studio -- wasn't that the whole point of their plan?
  • Even though she's lying critically injured in her hospital bed, Shannon was able to get her makeup on.
  • I mentioned in my recent Bayou post that the villain did a Victoria James style jump at the end, but in this episode is even more Victoria-like since it's a woman jumping through a window to her death.  And Grant pulls a Sam Beckett in Animal Frat by throwing the bomb out the window without having any idea what's below (other than Coyote).

Conversation: 
I sent Tottie Goldsmith (aka the Princess) a link to the episode and she watched it.

To be honest I had never seen this episode and I LOVED it. It was gripping!! Thank you for sending it.  I was such a baby face, god love!!! 

Ok, what I remember was all the wonderful chaos in the building. The beautiful staircase and foyer filled with the buzz of… for the time… glamorously dressed people. The vibe was electric and it must have been a nightmare for the crew. :)  The assassination scene took much rehearsing and really paid off I think seeing it now.

I met Jane Badler in the trailer and we struck up a friendship that we still share today, and I actually introduced her to her now husband so I was definitely meant to play the Princess.

Final Analysis:
Excellent episode!  The first half is slow and a little confusing, but the second half is great once Coyote gets involved.  Ranking it 3 out of 21.

We're off to a good start here in Season 2 -- let's hope it continues this way.

Mission: Impossible -- Episode 20: The Golden Serpent


To Watch: Part 1 Part 2

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
A Southeast Asian triad represented by a golden serpent symbol is drug smuggling and using the revenue to gain control over third world countries.  The IMF team, along with Barney Collier, plans to take down a prince (and triad member) by framing him and resurrecting his dead twin brother. After the prince gets killed, the team turns their attention to the businessman at the top of the smuggling ring.

Memorable Quote:
What the hell's going on?  ~Grant
About it being too easy?  ~Nicholas
Did I say that?  ~Grant

Highlight:
Some relatively compelling drama (very compelling by this show's standards) involving Grant finding his father near death but having to leave him to complete the mission, although they did miss an opportunity later when Grant finds out he's alive -- he just says "Dad?" and then the scene ends. Could have been an emotional moment.

Lowlight:
The laser-in-the-eyes bit was silly, and also it's hard for me to believe that Barney would be able to see again after that.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Our first episode of Season 2 and a two-parter at that.  I've watched this one in bits and pieces over a period of weeks so let's see how good my notes are.  At first glance, not too good.
  • Early on there's a shot of the Sydney Opera House -- wait a minute, am I still watching MI2?
  • I wrote "Ring is key?" in my notes.  I don't remember what that means, maybe they used a ring as a key at one point and I was surprised?  I'm not going to spend much time (ok, any time) rewatching to try and figure it out.  
  • Grant's dad, Barney, is involved with this mission.  We saw him in The Condemned, and it's worth mentioning again that the actor is Phil Morris's (Grant) father in real life, and he appeared on the original MI series.
  • I like the underground lair, feels kind of Bond-like.
  • I knew the villain was familiar but I couldn't place him.  After googling him, it turns out that he was Glass, the Yakuza leader in MacGyver's Log Jam and one of the best villains from the series!  I hope the committee doesn't revoke my PhD in MacGyverology.
  • Max picks the worst possible location for sniping -- a bridge that takes 10 minutes to get off. And given that he has a parachute, why doesn't he just use it right away? Although it does give us a chance to see Max try and dodge the bad guy's metal throwing blades, which I thought were a creatively distinctive weapon.
  • I like the idea of a presumed dead twin brother coming back to challenge the prince, but it would have made more sense if the prince hadn't seen the brother die.
  • I also like the multiple identical cars being used to confuse the tail.  I just saw a similar maneuver used on Burn Notice the other day.
  • Shannon finds Barney, weakened and presumed dead, in a room lying down on a sofa.  After talking to him for a minute, she tells him to get some rest and then leaves. How about at least getting the man a glass of water or something?
  • For the second straight episode, I'm complaining about the inconsistency with Max as a fighter. In Season 1 he's defeating an elite boxing champion and here he's having to break a sweat to defeat a puny pencil pusher.
  • They sure didn't skimp on explosives at the end.

Final Analysis:
Overall this two-parter was pretty solid, and while I didn't love it, I'm ranking it 4 out of 20.  The plot held my attention and moved at a good pace, and it was nice to see the characters' relationship (in this case Grant and Barney) as part of the story.  Hopefully this is a sign of better things to come for Season 2.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Mission Impossible 2 -- The Movie


Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
Sean Ambrose, a rogue IMF agent, impersonates Ethan Hunt and steals the antidote to a deadly virus. In response, Hunt recruits Nyah Nordoff-Hall, a professional thief and Ambrose's ex-girlfriend, to get close to him and find out what he's up to. After Nyah intentionally injects herself with the virus, Ethan must retrieve the antidote to save her, and he must stop Ambrose from causing an outbreak in Sydney.

Memorable Quote:
And Mr. Hunt, the next time you go on holiday, please be good enough to let us know where you're going.  ~Swanbeck
If I let you know where I'm going, I won't be on holiday.   ~Ethan Hunt

Highlight:
The score is phenomenal. The composer is none other than Hans Zimmer, who has scored countless other movies including The Lion King and Pirates of the Caribbean, and the soundtrack sparkles from beginning to end (links and more detail below).

Lowlight:
The fight scene at the end is five minutes too long. It's also way too convenient for a gun to be right at Hunt's feet at the moment when Ambrose gets one up on him.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Dougray Scott is awesome as Ambrose.  The only movie I recall seeing him in is Ever After with Drew Barrymore and so I can't speak for the rest of his career, but he really makes for a great villain here.
  • Ambrose's crew includes William Mapother who happens to be a first cousin of Tom Cruise and a Notre Dame graduate like myself. He also made a recent appearance in the ill-fated MacGyver reboot. Also on the crew: a young Dominic Purcell, aka Lincoln Burrows from Prison Break (who I'm glad to see survived the hit on tonight's finale).
  • Next we get to one of my favorite sequences of the movie, the rock climb. It's a fun and creative re-introduction to the Ethan Hunt character, it's incredibly filmed (apparently Cruise did all of the climbing with just a harness -- of course he did), and includes a joyfully random Iko Iko rendition. Is it a little ridiculous when Hunt hangs by his fingertips (pictured above) and then assumes a Jesus-on-the-cross pose while staring intensely into the camera? Of course, but when you have Tom Cruise in your movie, you gotta own it and let Cruise be Cruise. One question -- how did he get down from the mountain? Unlike MacGyver in the Pilot, he didn't think to bring a parachute. 
  • Speaking of Cruise, when I first saw this movie back in 2000, I thought Tom Cruise's hairstyle was super cool and I wanted to imitate it. I'm not kidding. I tried to grow it out but unfortunately my hair is thick, naturally curly, and not nearly straight enough to pull off the "Ethan Hunt MI2" look.
  • Some more great music in the Flamenco scene.  Some of it (including the beating heart sound) is ridiculously overdramatic, but I'm all in. 
  • Now we get to the car chase between Ethan and Nyah, which is amusing for Cruise's rapid vacillation between a serious face and hilarious laughter. When the cars were spinning around, we hear the Celtic-style vocals that appear throughout the movie -- actually I'm not sure if it's Celtic style but that's what came to mind because it reminds me of Enya. And it also reminds me of the music from Gladiator, which Zimmer also scored and which came out just a few weeks before MI2. And the way Cruise's hair was spinning around in the car, that's what I wanted my hair to do.  I can't believe I'm telling you all this.
  • How did they get Anthony Hopkins for an uncredited cameo?
  • Hopkins tells Hunt that the IMF couldn't find Cruise (because he was on vacation) to meet with the Russian scientist, and so they got Ambrose to replace him. But how would Ambrose have been able to put this entire plan together if he was only asked at the last minute to replace Hunt?
  • Great Cruise moment at the 32:21 mark:
    • "Would it make you feel any better if I didn't want you to do this?"  ~Ethan
    • "Yeah, much!"  ~Nyah
    • "Then feel better!!!"  ~Ethan
  • Oooh, it's the cigar cutter scene!  Almost as hard to watch as MacGyver stepping in a bear trap. If I were Ambrose's lieutenant, I would find that getting the tip of my pinky cut off would be somewhat of a demotivator.
  • More fun Cruise dialogue at 51:55:
    • "Don't turn around."  ~Ethan
    • "I managed."  ~Nyah
    • "You turned around."  ~Ethan
  • Great delivery by Dougray at 55:27: "In the envelope in my jacket pocket....my RIGHT jacket pocket."
  • "You know that was the hardest part of having to portray you: grinning like an idiot every 15 minutes." ~Ambrose.  That seems like a shot at Cruise -- was that in the script?!
  • The shootout in the chem lab is a fantastic scene, punctuated by the great Ambrose/Hunt dialogue and Zimmer's incredible score. Once again, it's way beyond overdramatic, but I'm still all in. Though I will say that the connection here between Ethan and Nyah is somewhat dampened by the fact that Nyah is never mentioned again after MI2. 
  • And what was the point of Nyah injecting herself?  The bad guys can just get the virus from her blood, so her action didn't really serve any practical purpose.
  • Cruise's "Just stay alive!" speech surely was modeled after Daniel Day Lewis's "I will find you" speech in The Last of the Mohicans. Daniel Day also says "Just stay alive" and jumps off a cliff into a waterfall, whereas Cruise jumps off a building.
  • The stuff with the birds flying around the cave and Ethan Hunt as some kind of "Dove Messenger" is a little kooky but in keeping with the intense yet endearing theme of the movie.
  • How come none of the guards at the compound see the IMF helicopter hovering overhead?

Final Analysis:
Love this movie!  It's very different from the first movie in that it's much more action oriented, but it still has a clever plot with several surprising twists involving the masks.  And while the acting and cinematography are great, it's the Zimmer soundtrack that takes it to the next level.  All in all it's a totally fun and rewatchable movie, and while I rank it a hair below the first one, it's very close.

I should also mention that it doesn't bother me that there is barely any connection to the original series (other than the IMF organization, the masks, and the opening disk briefing).  But why do I feel nonplussed about this when I was so put off by the new MacGyver's failure to adhere to the original?  Because I have barely any history with the original MI and am not overly impressed with the episodes I've seen so far, whereas the original MacGyver was my favorite show of all time and a sign of God's work.  There you have it.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Mission: Impossible -- Episode 19: Bayou


To Watch: Click Here

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
The IMF team goes to Louisiana to stop a nightclub owner who is running a kidnapping and slavery ring.

Memorable Quote:
Grant, you're now officially a member of the undead.  ~Phelps

Highlight:
When it comes to voodoo story lines, I'm in.  Just ask my good friend Mama Lorraine.

Lowlight:
The big guy's Southern drawl (or whatever that was) was annoying.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Some great Dixieland jazz in the club scenes.
  • I don't see how the two goons in the alley would get the jump on Max so easily after how he was portrayed as a champion boxer in Spy.
  • I'm not sure why Pepper is so mad at Morgan after seeing him at the voodoo ceremony.  And I can't believe that a video screen would be that convincing.  And then how did they know that Pepper would attack Morgan on the porch when she did? 
  • 42:11 - goofy moment when Max and Nick show up to rescue the slave girls and they all pleasantly smile and sigh at the same time.
  • Rather than face Pepper, Morgan decides to run off the boardwalk and get eaten by alligators.  Victoria James would have been proud of that maneuver.

Final Analysis:
Not a great episode by any means, but as is the case with Live and Let Die and Walking Dead, I'm a sucker for a good voodoo plot, and the Dixieland jazz and bayou setting help make this episode seem better than it is.  Ranking it 9 out of 19.

Well, we made it through Season 1.  Having not seen this series since it first aired almost 30 years ago, I wasn't sure what to expect when starting this project, and so far I've been disappointed.  There were two strong episodes (The Pawn and The Legacy), and everything else has been either mediocre, below average, or disastrous.  Hopefully Season 2 will be at least a little more inspired, but first it will be time to resume the movie reviews with MI2, which may be Tom Cruise at his Cruiseiest.