For movie watchers, few things can be more frustrating than films that begin with a sequence of immense promise, only to show over the remainder that the emperor truly wears no clothes. Two new examples come from the horror realm.
Until now, Ethan Hawke was having a wonderful year. Before Midnight, the third leg of his trilogy with director Richard Linklater and actress Julie Delpy, brought waves of critical acclaim and talk of another Oscar nomination for their collaborative screenplay, while The Purge turned a meager investment into a highly profitable box-office take.
Neither a chain of spice stores nor a Food Network program, The Seasoning House is a bleak-as-nuclear-winter thriller set during the Balkan conflict of the 1990s. A deaf girl named Angel (Brit teen Rosie Day) is taken from her home by soldiers who shoot her mother dead.
Paul Schrader’s The Canyons opens and closes with a montage of abandoned movie theaters. For this film in particular, that choice strikes one as symbolic in several ways: not only as a comment on the state of the industry, but on the state of The Canyons itself. You’re unlikely to find many 2013 films this empty.
What's a director of classic musicals doing in science fiction? Making Saturn 3, one of the worst of the genre Hollywood made in the immediate post-Star Wars / Alien era. Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain) takes to it about as well as you'd expect; he's in over his head.
One need not worship Xenu to enjoy “Mission: Impossible — Ghost
Protocol,” starring America’s most famous Scientologist, so check your
religious beliefs and Operating Thetan levels at the door.
In fact, so ridiculously entertaining is this fourth chapter of an uneven franchise, it may very well make my list of the year’s best films. This is pure Hollywood product at its unapologetic, blockbusting best.
Tom Cruise returns as IMF agent Ethan Hunt, now sprung from a Russian prison to infiltrate the Kremlin and prevent nuclear war. That’s all a MacGuffin, of course, to get Hunt and his three teammates moving from one set piece to the next, each impressively larger in scope and stakes than the one before.
The exciting opening is fluff compared to the climactic showdown between Hunt and a missile-happy madman (Michael Nyqvist, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) amid levels of varying heights in an automated parking structure.
Most exciting of all is Hunt scaling a Dubai hotel with gecko-grip gloves, proving director Brad Bird’s (“The Incredibles”) move from animation to live-action as seamless. He improves upon J.J. Abrams’ underappreciated 2006 “Mission: Impossible III” while making “Protocol” a direct continuation.
From “III,” Simon Pegg (“Star Trek”) reprises his comic-relief role, now upgraded to field agent. New to the team are Paula Patton (“Precious”) as a stunner of an ass-kicker and Jeremy Renner (“The Town”) as an intelligence analyst whose fists are as fast as his thoughts.
Both fit so snug, one hopes they’ll survive the “M:I” revolving door to return for chapter five.