MOVIES: 'Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol,' 'We Bought a Zoo' & 'Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'
Published 5:36 pm, Friday, January 6, 2012
Following are Susan Grangers's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
"MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL"
Tom Cruise not only scales the dizzying heights of the world's tallest building, Dubai's Burj Khalifa, but also successfully re-energizes this durable, high-octane franchise.
As the story begins, super-secret agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is languishing in a Russian prison cell, throwing a ball against a wall (like Steve McQueen in "The Great Escape") -- until he's unexpectedly extracted by an intrepid IMF team -- computer/gadget whiz Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), revenge-seeking rookie Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and enigmatic analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) -- to embark on a new assignment involving burglarizing the Kremlin.
Because a recent Moscow bombing has evoked memories of the Cold War, their task is deemed so risky that the Director (Tom Wilkinson) is initiating Ghost Protocol, meaning the American government will disavow all knowledge of this job, which involves intercepting stolen missile launch codes in order to trick Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist), a nefarious nuclear extremist, and his clever cohort, a sultry French assassin (Lea Seydoux), determined to initiate World War III.
Written with moments of unexpected humor by Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec ("Alias") and inventively directed by Oscar-winning animator Brad Bird (Pixar's "The Incredibles," "Ratatouille," "Iron Giant"), it's filled with globe-trotting tension and vertigo-inducing suspense, particularly when Ethan wall-crawls 2,715 ft. above downtown Dubai, dangling on the ledge of the 123rd floor of the Burj Khalifa, supported only by suction gloves. (That's more than double the height of the Empire State Building!) There's a blinding desert sandstorm and a gravity-defying, climactic cat-and-mouse chase in a multi-level Mumbai parking garage, as Ethan and Kurt battle over possession of a metal briefcase.
Kinetic kudos to cinematographer Robert Elswit, second unit director Dan Bradley, stunt coordinator Gregg Smrz and fight choreographer Robert Alonzo. Michael Giacchino's musical score incorporates Lalo Schifrin's original TV theme. And Josh Holloway from TV's "Lost" is memorable as Jane's doomed former cohort/lover.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" is an exhilarating, action-packed, nerve-wracking 9. It's a palm-sweating popcorn picture filled with spectacular feats of derring-do.
"WE BOUGHT A ZOO"
Six months after his wife's death, adventure-writer Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) is having trouble coping with his truculent 14-year-old son Dylan (Colin Ford), who's been expelled from school not only for drawing grotesque pictures that illustrate his disturbed psyche but also for stealing. While predatory single moms keep his refrigerator filled with homemade lasagna, Benjamin's precociously adorable 7-year-old daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) spends far too much time being sad.
So it's time to leave suburban Los Angeles and move somewhere new -- like a picturesque, if crumbling, old farmhouse in the country. It's part of the now-defunct Rossmoor Animal Park, which comes with a menagerie of 200 animals, some endangered -- including several tigers, a grizzly bear and lion -- as well as their devoted, if eccentric keepers. Headed by hard-working, no-nonsense Kelly Foster (Scarlett Johansson), who is highly skeptical about the arrival of widower Benjamin and his children, the staff also includes Kelly's naïve, free-spirited teenage cousin Lily (Elle Fanning), ill-tempered Peter MacCready (Angus Macfayden), and amiable Robin Jones (Patrick Fugit), who keeps a capuchin monkey perched on his shoulder.
Despite repeated warnings from his pragmatic accountant/older brother, Duncan (Thomas Hayden Church), Benjamin is determined to repair and reopen the wildlife preserve by July 4, but that can't happen until it passes inspection by Walter Ferris (John Michael Higgins), a finicky federal official.
Based on British journalist Benjamin Mee's memoir, "We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Broken-Down Zoo, and the 200 Animals That Changed a Family Forever," which was set in England, it's been simplistically adapted and transplanted to southern California by Aline Brosh McKenna ("The Devil Wears Prada," "Morning Glory," "27 Dresses") and writer/director Cameron Crowe ("Say Anything," "Jerry Maguire"), who has always been attracted to melodramatic, somewhat melancholy stories about love and longing.
Charming Matt Damon acquits himself admirably, particularly with scene-stealing Maggie Elizabeth Jones.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "We Bought a Zoo" is an affectionate, amusing 7. It's uplifting, feel-good family entertainment.
"THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO"
David Fincher's American version of Stieg Larsson's best-seller revolves around disgraced Stockholm financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and androgynous, enigmatic Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), an avenging, computer-hacking investigator. They're hired by an aging, wealthy industrialist, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), to solve the mystery of what happened to his beloved grand-niece, Harriet, at a family gathering back in 1966. The common belief is that she was murdered by a family member. But who?
Living on isolated Hedeby Island in the remote north, the Vangers are a bizarre assortment of dysfunctional characters. Taking over the family business from his late, anti-Semitic, Nazi father, there's genial Martin (Stellan Skarsgard) whose sister Anita (Joely Richardson) left long ago to become an investment banker in London.
Frode (Steven Berkoff) is the caretaker, while Cecilia (Geraldine James) is Henrik's curious grand-niece. Meanwhile, 24 year-old, bisexual Lisbeth is still a ward of the state and forced to report to a bullying, exploitive bureaucrat, Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen), when her long-time guardian suffers a stroke.
Working from "Schindler's List" screenwriter Steve Zaillian's astutely compressed adaptation, director David Fincher ("The Social Network," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Se7en," "Fight Club," "Zodiac") sets a fast pace, keeping the adrenaline pumping and indulging an inordinate amount of the 158-minute running time to savage violence, including hardcore rape, graphic torture and brutal retribution, disturbingly photographed by Jeff Cronenweth and edited by Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall.
While Daniel Craig scowls convincingly, casting relative newcomer Rooney Mara, who played Mark Zuckerberg's girlfriend in "The Social Network," as the defiant, multi-pierced, dragon-tattooed, grungy Goth girl is brilliant, and Robin Wright scores as Blomkvist's married editor/lover.
The only problem is: to those who have read Larsson's novels and have seen any of the highly successful Swedish "Millennium" film/TV versions, the cult crime concept is already familiar, which removes much of the inherent whodunit suspense.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is an entertaining if blatantly sexual, sado-masochistic 7, inducing thrills and chills.