In terms of modern movie franchises, the Mission: Impossible series has always been one that has both entertained me overall and interested me (for one reason in particular, which I’ll reveal at a later time).  And since it’s the middle of summer, a time of year where it’s all about fast-paced thrills when it comes to movies, I thought it’d be fun to embark on a short review series (separate from my Barrage of the Blockbusters) called “Mission: Accepted”, wherein I go back and take a look at all four entries into the Mission: Impossible franchise thus far, and see how they stack up.  Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to follow along with me each Monday this month.

Let us begin with the first film.

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Release Date: December 18th, 2009

Running Time: 2 hours and 41 minutes

Written and Directed by: James Cameron

Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang

By: Michael “MovieBuff801″ Dennos

Backlash can be a bitch, but also inevitable when it comes to highly successful and widely praised movies. Take, for instance, James Cameron’s Avatar, the second of the director’s films in a row to claim the title of “Highest Grossing Movie of All-Time” (unadjusted for inflation). People were singing its praises mostly when it was released in December 2009, and I was one of them. In fact, the praise was almost overwhelming. Then, as the hype died down and people began re-watching it more and more, the reality of everything slowly crept in, with many outright changing their opinions of the movie altogether. It’s been a little over four years since I last re-watched Avatar before now, and looking back on it, the four-year gap doesn’t seem all that unjustified.

Like most sci-fi opuses these days, Avatar takes place in the type of bleak future where Earth has depleted all of its natural resources, forcing our society to go out into the vast universe, looking for ways to replenish them. The efforts are focused on a planet called Pandora, home of the Na’vi, a race of blue, 10-foot tall humanoid creatures at one with the planet’s nature and are also worshippers of a goddess named Eywa. You see, Pandora is rich in a valuable mineral known as Unobtainium (sigh), but the humans can’t properly mine for the mineral without endangering the Na’vi’s way of life. Said conundrum leads the Earth expedition to enlist scientists headed over by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) to pursue more diplomatic negotiations by way of projecting their consciousness into those of “avatars”, Na’vi bodies mixed with human DNA that will allow them to move among Pandora’s population. The latest recruit into this project is Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic marine filling in for his recently-killed twin brother. But Jake’s mission isn’t going to be an easy one. He’s almost immediately approached by Col. Miles Quaritch (Steven Lang), a gung-ho marine less interested in diplomacy and more interested in immediate, decisive action. He strikes a deal with Jake: if Jake can provide intel on the Na’vi and their way of life, then Quaritch can guarantee Jake a new set of legs. Of course, Jake becomes more conflicted about that after he gets to know the Na’vi clan, specifically Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), daughter of the clan’s leader. It soon becomes the classic ultimatum of, “You’re either with us … or them!”

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a-million-ways-to-die-in-the-west-posters-generalWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Love him or hate him, it’s hard to deny the entertainment juggernaut that is Seth MacFarlane. Whether it be producing a hit television series like “Family Guy” or “American Dad”, voicing half the characters on the aforementioned programs (in addition to cameos on other shows and films), or live performances such as hosting the Oscars, MacFarlane has proven himself to be one of the most multi-talented people working today. However, much as I respect the man for his obvious talent, and even enjoy watching him speak, I have mixed feelings about the projects where he’s in creative control. I don’t hate anything he’s done, but on average I’m just lukewarm about his stuff. This is one of the reasons I never got around to seeing Ted, MacFarlane’s directorial debut, a few years back, in spite of some positive word of mouth. I do wish I had however, particular as it would have given me more of a referrence point for the man’s sophmore effort, the Western comedy A Million Ways to Die in the West.

Set in the small town of Old Stump in 1882, the film follows Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane), a sheep farmer. Stark is not a coward persay, but he doesn’t live up to the idea of an epic Western gunslinger. Stark hates life in the Old West, largely due to the infinite ways to die. His one consolation is his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried), but even that is taken away when she leaves him for rich man Foy (Neil Patrick Harris). Stark’s life does improve when a mysterious woman named Anna (Charlize Theron) befriends him, however what no one knows is that Anna is married to brutal gunslinger Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), who is coming to the little town bringing trouble.

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Warning: Spoilers

star-trek-generations-movie-poster-1994-1020190499Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country may have ended the original crew’s journey, but it would not be the end of Star Trek. Even in 1991, this was a known fact since the tv series “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (which, as its name suggests, takes place after the days of Kirk), had been running strong since 1987. With the original crew’s glory days behind them, the only logical choice would be to shift focus to The Next Generation cast of Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart), Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Data (Brent Spiner), and Worf (Michael Dorn), among others. However, some were weary over introducing movie audiences to a new crew cold, so it was decided that Star Trek: Generations would bridge the casts, featuring Captain Picard…and Captain Kirk.

The film opens in 2293, with the Enterprise under new command. Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov accompany the ship for a run more based on publicity than anything else. However the ship recieves a distress signal when two ships are caught in an energy wave tearing them apart. There are many causalities, but the Enterprise manages to save a handful of people, including Tolian Soran (Malcolm McDowell). In the process, the Enterprise takes damage and it is believed Kirk is killed. Flash-forward to 2371, when the new Enterprise, headed by Captain Picard, investigate an attacked solar observatory. They evacuate the survivors and hold them on the Enterprise. Among this survivors is the aforementioned Tolian Soran. From there, we learn that the energy wave of earlier is called the Nexus, and provides anyone within it limitless pleasure. This is where Soran was before he was beamed out by the Enterprise in 2293, and he’s willing to do anything to get back, including destroying stars in order to change the Nexus’ trajectory so that it absorbs him. Picard and the Enterprise set out to stop him, but eventually find the require the assistance of a legendary captain from the past.

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Flying Your Film Flag

Posted: June 28, 2014 by moviebuff801 in Commentary

By: Michael “MovieBuff801″ Dennos

This weekend’s release of Transformers: Age of Extinction, the fourth installment of Michael Bay’s billion-dollar franchise where giant alien robots do battle with each other, and cause lots of explosions in doing so, brings back what’s now become one of the biggest battles in and of itself in today’s film fan circles: the battle of film lovers vs. film snobs. Much like the ongoing war between the Autobots and Decepticons in these Transformers movies, it’s a fight which may most of the time occur “behind the scenes,” but whenever it comes to the forefront, it can sure get nasty. There are those who will argue that directors like Michael Bay are destroying Hollywood by continually pumping out big-budget CGI-fests and that anybody who goes to see them are merely contributing to that downfall, while others just have to say, “Why does it matter to you what I see?” The real question here, from my point of view, isn’t so much who’s right and who’s wrong, but why is this such a big issue in the first place?

Before I go any further, let me just say that in no way is this piece meant as a personal attack on anybody, nor am I trying to accuse anyone. It’s just that this issue has become too much for me as of late, so I felt like getting it out this way. Also, this is being written on the fly, without a clear structure in mind.

To begin with, ever since I started expressing my passion for film — of any kind — through reviews of them, I’ve always told myself to stay grounded and not become too cynical about the state of Hollywood these days or too snobbish about the films I see. My tastes may develop, but I don’t ever want to become too jaded. I believe that to be an important asset for a critic of any kind.  In his last few years, the late, great Roger Ebert (one of my main inspirations for choosing to review films in the first place) notoriously gained a new wave of popularity of a more negative sort by becoming a lot more lenient where his critiquing of films was concerned. For example, he gave films such as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Snow White and the Huntsman each a rating of three and a half out of four stars. I myself, like the majority of others who saw those movies, wasn’t a fan of either of them; in retrospect, they both get worse the more I think about them. However, there was still something to be admired about the way that Mr. Ebert was able to have those opinions, express them succinctly and not be ashamed about having them in the first place. Even before his declining years, Ebert gave positive reviews to other widely-dismissed movies such as Adam Sandler’s remake of The Longest Yard and the update of The Honeymooners, starring Cedric The Entertainer.

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By: Michael “MovieBuff801″ Dennos

In the land of explosions, eardrum-pounding sound effects and hyperactive action sequences, director Michael Bay reigns supreme. Bay has had many hits and misses, his best movie to date being 1996′s The Rock, but the Transformers franchise — for the most part — successfully utilizes Bay’s prowess for filming action sequences with the energy and glee like that of a kid at Christmas and turns it into an asset. Love them or hate them, the latter being the most likely, these Transformers movies, a live-action adaptation of the popular cartoon and toy brand, represent pretty much everything that Michael Bay movies are all about. Whereas most people regard him as one of the worst directors working today, I consider him my kind of schlockmeister when all’s said and done. So, with Transformers: Age of Extinction pounding its way into theatres this weekend, it seems like a most opportune time to take a look back at the first trilogy of films in the series. I ask that you please hold the bile until I’m done.

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Edge of Tomorrow Review

Posted: June 22, 2014 by PG Cooper in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

edge-of-tomorrow-international-poster-600x888Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Tom Cruise has been a pop culture punching bag for so long that it’s hard to remember that it wasn’t always this way. In a time before scientology, various relationship problems, and Oprah’s couch, Cruise was not only a huge movie star, but also a respected actor. But from the mid-2000s on, Cruise’s work seems secondary to his personal life. I’ve always tried to just ignore an artist’s personal life and just enjoy their work in and of itself. Granted, Cruise hasn’t been in anything truly great since 2004′s Collateral (his Tropic Thunder cameo not withstanding), but he has starred in a number of solid films during his controversy like War of the Worlds, Mission: Impossible III, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Oblivion. His newest film, the high concept science fiction Edge of Tomorrow, falls in nicely with this line of strong action movies.

Set in an unspecified future, Earth has been visited by an alien race attempting to conquer the planet. Naturally, humanity has resisted, and has even managed to develop advanced mech suits to fight the war. Major Bill Cage (Tom Cruise) has pulled strings throughout the war, but has never actually seen a battlefield. When Cage is ordered to go out and fight, he tries to weasel out of it, ending with him being labelled a deserter and thrown on the front lines for the next big push. Not surprisingly, Cage does not last long before being killed, but instead of dying, wakes up the previous morning to live the day over. He finds himself on the same beach fighting the same alien race, being killed, and yet again waking up to live the day over. He soon learns that every time he dies, the day just resets from the moment he woke up that morning. With this power, and the help of expert soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), Cage finds he may be able to destroy the aliens and save humanity.

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Release Date: June 11th, 1993

Running Time: 2 hours and 7 minutes

Written by: Michael Crichton and David Koepp

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough

By: Michael “MovieBuff801″ Dennos

If I were to use the term “popcorn movie” to describe any big-budget blockbuster today, then I bet I’d most likely be met with responses of “That’s a stupid excuse!” But what if I used it to describe a movie like Jurassic Park? Ah-hah! The naysayers aren’t so vocal now, are they? That’s because “popcorn movie” really is the best way to describe this film. It’s driven mainly by thrills and a sense of adventure, emphasizing the majesty of special effects, and you know what? It works with Jurassic Park because the craft behind it is so good. If you want to look at this film purely from a critical perspective, fine, but just know you’re missing out on the point. Sure, you can nitpick a number of things here, but Steven Spielberg and co. instead want you to be absorbed in the experience, to (as the title implicates) go on a ride. And what a ride it is.

Based on the Michael Crichton novel of the same name, the park of the title refers to an island/theme park conceived and created by John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), CEO of bioengineering company InGen. Jurassic Park is an attraction where tourists can come and literally see living, breathing (and cloned) dinosaurs, all thanks to dinosaur DNA found in a mosquito trapped in amber for 65 million years. But before the park can open, it needs to be approved in various ways. So, Hammond extends weekend invitations to paleontologists Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), with chaos theorist Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) and Hammond’s own grandchildren also along for the trip, to experience the park and consequently endorse it. At first, the doctors are in awe of what Hammond has created — who wouldn’t be? — but soon, the moral quandaries of what Hammond has done become relevant. Just because you can play God, does that inherently mean you should? But those questions are soon pushed aside by a tropical storm which descends on the island, a storm that’s used as a smokescreen by scheming Jurassic Park computer programmer Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) to disable the island’s security measures so he can steal dinosaur embryos for a corporate rival. Of course, disabling the security means the people on the island are no longer protected from the more dangerous dinosaurs, such as the raptors and the colossal T-Rex, making it survival of the fittest.

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*Review contains spoilers

star_trek_vi_ver2Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

If the original series Star Trek films were made today, there’s a great chance we never would have seen The Undiscovered Country. We currently live in the era of the reboot, if a series fails once, we can just start over again. But before 2005, that wasn’t really an option. Movie franchises were faced with a simple choice in the face of defeat; either stop entirely, or try to do better next time. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is unquestionably a failure, though rather than let the film series fizzle out, the filmmakers marched on to give the original crew a more fitting send off. Nicholas Meyer (director of The Wrath of Khan) was brought back on board, and the story would draw on contemporary events like the collapse of the Soviet Union through allegory. The end result is Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, a film which proves a great finale for the beloved crew while fully embracing the core beliefs of the franchise.

The alien race known as the Klingons are in mortal danger. The depletion of their ozone layer and the destruction of their primary energy production facility has placed the warrior race in a weakened state, to the point that they reach out for help. The Federation argues about what is to be done. Some say the Klingons are not to be trusted and should be left to die, or worse yet, obliterated now while the race is weak. Ultimately though, the Federation decide on peace, thus Kirk and the Enterprise are sent to escort Klingon chancellor to Earth for negotiations. Kirk is resistant, given his violent history with the Klingons and his personal animosity towards them, but Spock points out an old Vulcan proverb; “Only Nixon could go to China.” However the negotiations are complicated by a web of conspiracy which throws not only the fate of the Enterprise into chaos, but all of the galaxy.

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Release Date: May 18th, 2001

Running Time: 1 hour and 29 minutes

Written by: Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, Joe Stillman, Roger S. H. Schulman

Directed by: Andrew Adamson & Vicky Jenson

Starring: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow

By: Michael “MovieBuff801″ Dennos

When it comes to certain movies — at least those worth their salt — you notice certain subtleties that you didn’t pick up on before upon repeat viewing. So, imagine my surprise/amusement when, during my latest viewing of the 2001 animated hit Shrek, I noticed what is perhaps one of the most un-PG jokes in a PG-rated animated film. The scene in question comes around the middle of the second act, where the film’s villain is in bed at night sipping a martini and gazing upon the sight of his intended bride. He’s at least shirtless, but in the middle of the scene, he fleetingly glances down at the covers and shifts slightly in embarrassment. I think that’s the first, and only, erection joke I’ve seen in an animated family film. The phrase of “a faaaaaaaaaaamily picture!” immediately jumps to mind.

All subtle dick jokes aside, though, let’s move on to the larger picture here: Shrek as a film. It’s the movie that jumpstarted Dreamworks Animation and began perhaps the most popular CG-animated film series that doesn’t have Pixar’s brand name attached. Four films and thirteen years later, and how does it hold up? Pretty well, in fact. Does it stack up against the best that Pixar has to offer, though? As well as can be expected.

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