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DVD: Three New Dramas

Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

 

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL

The mission -- to convert a classic TV series from the late ’60s and early ’70s into a viable movie series -- seemed eminently possible when it kicked off on the big screen 16 years ago. And so it was.

Which brings us to the latest entry, “Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol,” the PG-13-rated fourth installment in a generally successful franchise that has had its ups and downs.

The 1996 “Mission: Impossible” was a spyrotechnical thriller that was a mission accomplished -- but barely, because it was a mission: impossible to follow. The 2000 followup, “Mission: Impossible II,” was a disappointing shoot-’em-up action extravaganza that proved to be a mission: impossible to swallow. And the 2006 sequel, “Mission: Impossible III,” breathed new life into the franchise as something close to a mission: impossible to dislike. This fourth installment, “Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol,” registers as a mission: impossible to resist.Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, the leader of the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) -- sort of a CIA within the CIA -- is blamed along with his team for a terrorist bomb that has destroyed the Kremlin.

So the U.S. government initiates a black-ops “ghost protocol”_and disavows the IMF -- as it is wont to do -- after which Hunt and his colleagues choose to accept an assignment designed to clear their name and discover who framed them. In the process, they hope to thwart a maniacal plan that could eventuate into nuclear winter. Jeremy Renner joins the IMF team for this outing, playing an analyst with a top-secret background, and his colleagues are played by returnee Simon Pegg and newcomer Paula Patton, with the estimable Tom Wilkinson as the in-charge Secretary of the IMF and Michael Nyqvist (star of the Swedish version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and its sequels) as a nuclear extremist.

The director, Brad Bird, is making his first stab at live action, after directing three impressive animated films (“The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille,” “The Iron Giant”). And he takes right to it -- these high-tech geeks are, after all, in a manner of speaking, “The Incredibles” -- bringing a master animator’s pinpoint timing to the task.

Bird flies high indeed, instilling a productive sense of humor, mostly delivered by the delightful Pegg; letting the featured actors each shine; showcasing Cruise’s willingness to do most of his own stunts; establishing a sense of place in such exotic locations as Moscow, Dubai and Mumbai; supervising the elaborate and dizzyingly exhilarating action sequences; giving the high-tech gadgetry the ingenious kick it deserves; dishing out just enough in the way of technical explanations for us to follow the narrative without being disenfranchised by the science involved; and maintaining a pace so breathless, we barely notice just how comic-book preposterous most of what we’re watching and accepting actually is.

The combination of high-octane action, nosebleed-inducing high stakes, whirlwind globetrotting and thick suspense that Bird conjures in “M:I—GP” is both laudable and applaudable. So much so, in fact, that this is the best of the franchise offerings thus far, as well as a promise of more installments to come.

And in mid-comeback, Cruise reminds us what a convincing and highly watchable leading man/action star he is, exhibiting the commanding Cruise control and charisma that made so many of his star turns boffo at the box office.

This mission you should absolutely choose to accept.

 

EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE

It’s not extremely loud, but it is incredibly close. To our hearts and minds. And it’s dramatically devastating.

“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” is a poignant, stimulating,_PG-13-rated drama about the tragic effects and aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, a subject that movies of the previous decade have addressed only occasionally (“World Trade Center,” “United 93”), as if it were too soon after our collective trauma to turn our shock and grief into “entertainment.”

But from its arresting opening through its moving conclusion, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” -- an Oscar nominee for Best Picture -- proves either that it has now been a long enough thematic embargo or that with enough creativity, intelligence and sensitivity applied, it’s much more than just possible to do the subject justice.

“EL&IC,” based on the 2005 novel by Jonathan Safran Foer and directed by Stephen Daldry, tells its heartbreaking story through the eyes of a 9-year-old boy named Oskar Schell, played by Thomas Horn. His doting dad, a jeweler played by Tom Hanks, lost his life on that fateful day -- what Oskar always refers to as “the worst day” -- when he was attending a meeting in one of the Twin Towers.

The troubled, fast-talking protagonist, Oskar, has Asperger syndrome. After his father is taken from him, the earthly connection between them seemingly gone forever, he finds a key and wonders what the lock that it fits would tell him about his father.

Sandra Bullock plays his mother, who has trouble getting through to her son as they go through their grief process and heal in very different ways.

So Oskar undertakes a singular and apparently impossible journey of self-discovery throughout New York City’s five boroughs, using every ounce of his considerable intelligence and resourcefulness to track down and contact anyone who might hold a key to the key.

Of course, he could use a little grownup help. And it comes in the form of his grandmother’s (Zoe Caldwell) mysterious, mute boarder, a Holocaust survivor played by Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee Max Van Sydow, who begins accompanying him on his frequent trips across town.

The time-shifting script by veteran screenwriter Eric Roth is an intense father-son drama that proves astonishingly adept at turning elements of the story that would seem to work much better on the page into effectual elements of visual storytelling.

As overwhelmingly sad as the subject matter is, the film’s imprint is not only life-affirming but, almost miraculously, hopeful as well. And because Daldry doesn’t push too many emotional buttons in the early going, the film’s final reels have an uncanny emotional power.

Hanks is solid and Bullock efficiently effective, as the stars lend their collective screen presence to the film and hover over it even when they’re not on screen, and Von Sydow does wonders with his silent role.

But it’s the remarkable Horn -- who had never acted before and was discovered as a contestant and champion on the kids’ edition of TV’s “Jeopardy” -- who carries the film. And he’s a revelation. Rarely is a child performer depended upon for this level of nuance, this much complicated dialogue, this volume of voiceover narration, or this amount of up-close and- personal screen time. But Horn can toot his own because he’s a champion here, too.

“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” is a heart-wrenching and rewarding 9/11-themed drama about loss, grief and love.

 

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

"I want you to help me catch a killer of women.”

Thus does one major character engage another in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Only this time he says it in English. And to one of the most vivid and iconic characters in movie history.

Swedish actress Noomi Rapace was so magnificent as the female lead in the Swedish version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” it seemed that no one could possibly replace her.

Her tough, tattooed, pierced, antisocial, bisexual computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander, was astonishing and indelible.

So when Rooney Mara, relatively unknown but for her small role in the first scene of “The Social Network,” was cast in the coveted role in the high-profile American remake, it seemed like a downgrade.

Well, not so fast.

If Mara isn’t quite as overwhelming and riveting as Rapace was in the role, she sure is close, as her Oscar nomination for Best Actress demonstrates in this taut, tense thriller.

No, this R-rated English-language redo of the pulpy thriller, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” -- nominated for five Oscars and a winner for Best Editing -- based on the international best seller by Stieg Larsson (the original title of which, interestingly enough, translated as, “Men Who Hate Women”), doesn’t have quite the suffocating suspense or emotional impact of the original. But for anyone who missed out on that masterful, subtitled gem, this is a respectable, stimulating substitute.

Daniel Craig stars as Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist in Stockholm who recently has been duped, discredited and disgraced in a libel suit. He is summoned by Henrik Vanger, an industrialist patriarch played by Christopher Plummer, to his wealthy family’s snowy private island, ostensibly to write a biography of Vanger and a history of the powerful and eccentric Vanger clan, but ultimately to look into the disappearance of Vanger’s grand-niece under mysterious circumstances 40 years ago.

So Mikael engages Lisbeth to use her skills to help him dig into just what happened. Was it murder?

Accomplished director David Fincher maintains the foreboding atmospherics, violent creepiness, chilly menace, and dark, stark brutality that define the “bleak chic” style that we have come to associate with him. At the same time, however, the R-rated film that he delivers is less sexually explicit than the Swedish version.

The screenplay by Steven Zaillian explores physical and emotional abuse, abiding corruption, and the limitations of retribution, featuring lots of parallel cutting between storylines and locations, and ultimately celebrates intrepid investigative journalism with a narrative that is complex but accessible.

What it doesn’t accomplish that the original did is to get us urgently curious about the solution to the mystery that triggers the plot. And because we’re not heavily invested in it, the ultimate revelation registers anticlimactically: It’s generically cathartic, but neither startling nor truly satisfying.

This remake has softer edges and is certainly not as richly suspenseful, hypnotic or unnerving as the original. But it’s still commandingly absorbing until it falters into escapist movie-movie territory toward the end.

Craig is fine, but it’s Mara’s angry, abused Salander whom we can’t take our eyes off and who stays with us long after the film ends.

Next up: an English-language remake of “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” the second film in the Swedish trilogy based on the second book in author Larsson’s “Millennium Trilogy.” Craig, Mara and Zaillian are already committed. As to Fincher, time and commercial success and other projects will tell.

The suspenseful sexism-and-social-injustice saga, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” isn’t quite up to the lofty level of accomplishment of the Swedish version, but it’s an icily effective thriller in its own right.

 

Bill Wine has served as movie critic for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, The Courier-Post, The Village Voice and FOX29, where he won three Emmys for his work. Currently, you can hear Bill’s reports on KYW Newsradio in Philadelphia. Bill is also a tenured professor at LaSalle University.