Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation – A Review

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Tom Cruise needs a haircut.

That’s a weird way to start a review, but that thought was running through my mind the entire time that I was watching a screening of Mission: Impossible – Rouge Nation. Despite the very cool action sequences and stunts, every time Cruise was on the screen I was thinking that he needed to see a stylist. The longer, shaggy hair was not befitting a man of his age or who is going to be hanging off airplanes in his free time.

The fact that I was focusing on Cruise’s hair and not his personal life is actually a major upgrade. For years, no matter how much I enjoyed a Cruise performance, there was a part of me that was fixated on his relationship with Scientology, his couch jumping or his weird intensity that gives you the impression that underneath this nice guy demeanor that there could possibly be lurking a serial killer. Something about Cruise has always struck me as off and usually I judge his success in disappearing into a role as to how much I think about all his personal baggage during it. So fixating on his hair is actually a really positive sign; it means that I forgot about everything else that is going on with him and was invested only in what I was seeing on screen. That, my friends, is tantamount to a big win for Cruise.

The nice thing about the Mission: Impossible movies is that at this point in the franchise you generally know what you are getting: there will be some cool gadgets, there will be some exciting chases and thrilling fight scenes and at some point when it is most convenient for the plot, someone will be wearing a mask that allows them to look exactly like another actor in the film. If that makes the Mission: Impossible films sound formulaic, to some extent they are, but that’s kind of what I like about them. The reason the franchise continues to do so well is how they continue to play with these elements and find new and exciting ways to do them. There is always some stunt in the film that is show stopping – especially when you discover that Cruise did most of it himself – and the overall result is an entertaining film. I may not necessarily be super pumped about seeing a new Mission: Impossible movie, but I know that I am almost guaranteed to have a good time while I’m watching it. After a steady diet of usually dark art house films and needlessly complicated superhero movies, there’s something about the more streamlined Mission: Impossible movies that is refreshing. It’s kind of like if the Bond movies and the Fast & Furious franchise had a baby. At this point in the Mission: Impossible movies, they have learned from some previous missteps and have figured out what works for the films and for Cruise; the result is perhaps not particularly daring, but it is extremely confident. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is a fun action movie that is streamlined for maximum enjoyment.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation begins with IMF (Impossible Missions Force) being disbanded after a string of questionable missions that while successful left an awful lot of death and destruction in their wake. The IMF is usurped by the CIA, a move spearheaded by Alan Hunley (Alec Bladwin, being Alec Baldwin). This is poor timing, as Ethan Hunt (Cruise) has just discovered intel that the mysterious “Syndicate” does in fact exist. With the CIA demanding that Hunt be held accountable for previous activities with IMF, Hunt goes rogue to try and uncover the Syndicate. He is assisted in this by his old team – William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) – and the mysterious Ilsa Fuast (Rebecca Ferguson), whose true loyalties are questionable. Can the off-books IMF team expose the Syndicate and their illicit activities while also be found and accused of treason?

While the story is important to Rogue Nation, it also serves as a way to quickly move from one exciting action sequence to another. Rogue Nation is absolutely jam packed with thrilling fight scenes and stunts; these exchanges are beautifully choreographed and absolutely a delight to watch. The scene of Cruise hanging off the side of an airplane – which is in all the commercials and is the scene that he’s been showing on his tour of talk shows (because he really did it) – takes place within the first five minutes of the movie and they keep their foot on or near the accelerator for the duration of the story. There are occasional moments when they pause, but those breaks are just to allow you to prepare yourself for the next exciting burst of action. It all moved along very quickly and efficiently and the two hour run time absolutely flew by.

Everyone in the cast did their usual solid job – the Mission: Impossible movies have figured out how to channel Cruise’s brand of intensity – but Rebecca Ferguson deserves special recognition as the newcomer to the team. She succeeded in being a true bad-ass in Rogue Nation; it’s refreshing to see women get the chance to mix it up in these action films and Ferguson (and her presumable stunt double) more than hold their own. Her character is second only to Ethan in the physicality of the role and while most action films allow the women in the cast just a moment to shine (and often limited to exchanges with other women), the character of Ilsa is fully integrated into multiple action sequences throughout the movie. It was a nice change of pace and felt totally organic to the film.

Another surprise in Rogue Nation was just how funny the film was. Usually action films have a few one-liners here or there to lighten the mood, but there were more consistent laughs in this installment than I remember in previous movies. Jeremy Renner, in particular, gets to do a little comedy and he does a nice job. So while Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is definitely an action movie, there are also plenty of moments of levity, which serve as a nice counterbalance and make Rogue Nation just feel fun.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation isn’t going to change the world and isn’t doing anything all that different. It is, however, a very solid action movie that knows its characters and actors well enough to operate like a well-oiled machine. If you’ve like the previous movies in this franchise or just like action movies generally, you’ll like Rogue Nation a lot. Lots of thrills, lots of laughs and a plot that doesn’t require a lot of attention to easily follow. That’s the recipe for a very enjoyable summer movie. Now get Tom Cruise to a barber.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation opens nationwide today.

 

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Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Deja Vu All Over Again Edition

 

Since I do these roundups every week, I occasionally get a little confused about what stories that I’ve already covered in previous roundups and which stories only sound familiar because I read them in preparation of this week’s roundup. It’s one of the reasons putting this post together is so time consuming; I wind up doubling back and checking to make sure that the links aren’t duplicates from earlier posts. I didn’t have the time to do that this week, so there is a more than fair chance that you may have read some of these links before. Consider it a stroll down memory lane rather the side effect of a lazy blogger.

Even if some of this is familiar – hopefully a small percentage – there’s still plenty of good stuff to choose from in this week’s roundup. So kick back and get yourself either caught up or reacquainted with all the pop culture that you may have missed in the last seven days (give or take).

  • Tom Cruise and Jimmy Fallon had a lip sync battle:

 

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  • Anika and Andre from Empire (Grace Gealey and Trai Byers IRL) are getting hitched. #PLOTTWIST
  • John Stamos shared a photo from the set:

Becky and Jesse together Forever. #FullerHouse. #Netflix

A post shared by John Stamos (@johnstamos) on

 

Time for some trailers…..

  • Seth Rogen in The Night Before (red band trailer):

 

  • HBO’s Ferrell Takes The Field:

 

  • Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials:

 

  • Victoria (a movie filmed in one take):

 

  • Michael Bay’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi:

 

  • Zac Efron in We Are Your Friends:

 

  • The Escort:

 

  • Julianne Moore and Ellen Page in Freeheld:

 

  • Elisabeth Moss in Queen of Earth:

 

  • Ryan Reynolds in Mississippi Grind:

 

  • Gotham:

 

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  • Billy Corgan could give Jack White a run for his money in the cranky department:

 

  • Nothing but mad love for my friends that are teachers:

 

  • THIS is why I love minor league baseball:

 

As always, we end with the mashups and supercuts.

  • It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia mashed up with Batman v. Superman:

 

  • Harry Potter meets Wiz Khalifa:

 

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  • I’m loving all the Kelly Clarkson covers – here she is doing “Blank Space” (Swift approves)

 

  • Clarkson also covers ‘N SYNC (in the great city of Buffalo):

 

  • The Fantastic Four reimagined as a 90s Action VHS:

 

  • Tangled told through emoji:

 

  • FX paid tribute to George Coe:

 

  • 24 Pixar impressions in five minutes:

 

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  • Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” – a personal favorite – gets a vintage makeover:

 

  • And finally, The Hunger Game of Thrones (someone make this happen!):

Some Thoughts on The Jim Gaffigan Show

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I have been a fan of Jim Gaffigan’s stand up for quite a while; of all the comics that I saw during Comics Come Home last year, I think I was most excited to see him live. At first glance, Gaffigan doesn’t have a ton in common with the comics that I generally favor – he works clean and his material is far from edgy in that he draws his inspiration from everyday life and his tendency to overindulge when eating. But funny is funny and ever since I heard his routine about Hot Pockets I was sold and have sought him and his comedy ever since. His involvement was part of the reason that I started watching the TBS comedy My Boys, a show that I am convinced that I may very well have been the only person watching. Gaffigan just seems like a great guy, so I was really excited for him when I heard that he was pitching a sitcom.

I was less excited for him when I heard that CBS had passed on the pilot and that the show had landed at TV Land.

TV Land is a fine channel for a retrospective tour of “classic” TV –I’m all about the Roseanne and Golden Girls repeats, but you kind of lose me with The King of Queens, Reba and Gilligan’s Island – but their original programming has not been great. TV Land is where TV actors go to die; the strategy for original programming was to throw together a bunch of actors that you know from other shows and write the most dated and sitcom-y jokes possible. Exhibit A: Hot in Cleveland, starring Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, Wendy Malick and Betty White. Exhibit B: The Exes, with Kristen Johnson, Donald Faison and Wayne Knight. I like a lot of the people involved with these shows so I gave them both a look, but for me they were borderline unwatchable. That style of comedy may have worked for me in the 80s, but comic sensibility has changed quite a lot since then. I don’t begrudge anyone getting a paycheck, but when I think of shows on TV Land, that’s all I think about – that these people have to be doing this just for the money. I’m sure these shows appeal to a wide variety of people, but I wanted better for Gaffigan than a hokey sit-com that relies on faux nostalgia and generic laughs. I’ll admit it – I am a TOTAL TV snob. I wasn’t particularly thrilled when the show was being developed for CBS, either, but I felt even worse about TV Land. So I had a little moment of silence for Jim Gaffigan’s successful TV dream and wished that things had tuned out differently. Maybe next time, I thought. I had zero intensions of watching the show; I figured that it would only make me sad.

However, Gaffigan’s website made an episode available to watch last month (well before the premiere) and since there was nothing much going on I decided to see how bad the show really was. I love a good preview more than anything, so I settled in expecting to see a shadow of the comedy that I’ve come to love from Gaffigan – and that’s if I was lucky.

Believe me, no one was more surprised than me when I actually really enjoyed the episode. Though there were some markings of the classic sit com that we all grew up with, The Jim Gaffigan Show felt like a much more updated version. It didn’t feel stale or clichéd; instead the show seemed to breathe some fresh life into a dying breed of comedies. The show may not be as complex or dark as the comedies that I generally tend to enjoy – think most comedies on FX – but it made me smile and laugh without having to try all that hard. I’ve now seen three episodes and while the first one that I saw was still the best of the bunch (not the pilot), it wasn’t an aberration either. I’m actually enjoying some original programming on TV Land. Who knew?

The Jim Gaffigan Show is a fictionalized version of Jim’s real life – he lives in a two bedroom apartment in New York City with his wife Jeannie (Ashley Williams) and their five (!!) small children. The show follow their chaotic life of parenting so many kids in such a small space in the city as well as Jim’s life as a stand-up comic. Michael Ian Black co-stars as Jeannie’s friend Daniel and Adam Goldberg rounds out the cast as Jim’s scummy friend Dave. In some ways, The Jim Gaffigan Show is a G-rated version of Louie, without some of the more absurdist and esoteric elements. Though Jim is a stand-up comic on the show, they don’t dedicate much time to him doing traditional stand-up material. Instead, the show is more focused on his home life and what happens off the stage. There’s still plenty of laughs and Jim’s food obsession is front and center on more than one episode so fans of Gaffigan’s stand-up will not be disappointed. His humor is still apparent throughout, just delivered in a different way.

What really helps the show tremendously is Jim Gaffigan’s inherent likability; he just seems like a really great guy that you’d want to be friends with, so you automatically enjoy spending 22 minutes a week with him. I don’t know if I would enjoy this show nearly as much if he wasn’t the star. The rest of the cast is great – both Michael Ian Black and Adam Goldberg are playing the type of character that they do best (snarky for the former and a lech for the latter) and Ashley Williams is great in her scenes with Gaffigan. The stakes are generally pretty low – one recent episode revolved around Jim trying to not eat red velvet cake – but they are very relatable (I, too, have a weakness for anything red velvet). But most importantly, of course, is that the show is just funny. None of these other elements would matter if the jokes don’t land and the show doesn’t make you laugh. Thankfully that isn’t an issue with The Jim Gaffigan Show; his comedic voice shines through the more traditional sit com format.

The episode that I saw first (scheduled to air August 5th) and which I think is the strongest of the series deals with Jim and religion. The show doesn’t shy away from the Gaffigan’s faith on the show – their priest is a recurring character – but it is presented in such a way to not be an issue for non-believers or people of other beliefs. The episode in question plays with Jim’s fears about being perceived as religious; it’s an interesting spin on the issue, where Jim is somewhat comfortable in his position as a believer, but not comfortable with some of the baggage that comes with such a label. It’s bar far the edgiest of the episodes that I’ve seen – and it’s not really all that edgy except for dealing with an issue that can be controversial. It was handled so well and was so funny that it is what sold me on the series.

So I learned an important lesson with The Jim Gaffigan Show – you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (or, in this case, a series by its network). You never know when a channel is going to go in a completely different direction with their programming or offer up something that is a little off-brand. Granted, that is less likely to happen for a major network that is doing well than a small cable outlet – CBS probably isn’t changing their stripes anytime soon – but it is still important to actually give a show a chance before summarily dismissing it. The Jim Gaffigan Show isn’t reinventing the wheel, but its voice and viewpoint are just different enough to make it a fun way to spend a half hour. I don’t know if it would find a consistent spot on my DVR lineup in the fall, when the TV offerings are vast and plentiful, but it is a perfectly acceptable alternative in the summer. I’m glad that Gaffigan got a real shot at a TV comedy. Success really couldn’t happen to a nicer or more deserving guy. He deserves all the red velvet cake that he wants.

The Jim Gaffigan Show airs Wednesdays at 10 pm (ET) on TV Land.