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'Mission Impossible 4': one heck of a ride

Posted: December 22, 2011 - 12:02am

Y ou people have to stop! Seriously, the emails, snail mail letters, phone calls, texts, Facebook posts, they are all very nice. It’s too much, though. “Where did you go?” you ask. “We are dying to know what you think of ‘Mission: Impossible 4’!” you write. “Our lives just aren’t the same without your column!” you say. It’s true, my appearances in this space will now take place but once a month, but something tells me we’ll get through the change together.

I’m sorry? What’s that? Nobody noticed I was gone? No emails, texts, Facebook posts? Oh. Right. Well, this is awkward. Whatever. The once-a-month part is true, though. Hence the new column title and handsome new picture. Actually, this is going to be fun. We’ll hang out less often, but we’ll get to talk about more than just movies. We get to talk about the boob tube, too!

First, though, let’s talk IMF. No, not International Monetary Fund. Rather, the Impossible Missions Force. The much more fun of the two, I think we can all agree. IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is back for a fourth installment in “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” and the franchise is still looking quite healthy after the surprisingly good third chapter (J.J. Abrams’ “Mission: Impossible 3”).

So far, Cruise as Hunt has gone like this: Entertaining but confusing as hell in Brian De Palma’s “Mission: Impossible” (1996), entertaining but way, way, way over the top in John “Over The Top” Woo’s “Mission: Impossible 2” (2000), entertaining in a downright awesome action flick in Abrams’ 2006 film, and now? Now it’s Brad Bird behind the camera. You know, the well-known action director who cut his chops on equally well-known action adventures such as “Ratatouille,” “The Incredibles” and “The Iron Giant.”

Wait, what? Those are all cartoons! Luckily for Bird, the “Mission: Impossible” franchise is as close to a cartoon as you can get with real-life Cruise constantly sprinting after bad guys, jumping off the tops of the world’s tallest buildings, and generally getting smashed, blown up, beat up, shot, stabbed and drugged so often it’s amazing he’s still even able to speak coherently. No matter the reason, I’m pleased to report that Bird’s turn behind the “Mission: Impossible” camera ranks him ahead of both De Palma and Woo, maybe just a notch below Abrams.

Maybe you’re wondering what the plot of “Ghost Protocol” is. My wife was, too, as we waited for the screening to start. “Okay,” she said, “what’s this about?” I’ll tell you what I told her: Cruise plays Hunt, who works for an agency like the CIA, only it’s more CIA-y than the CIA. He and his team do the stuff that nobody else can or will and if they get caught, they’re screwed.

Beyond that? Dude, “Ghost Protocol” is 133 minutes long. It’s part of a franchise that is about spies who are constantly lying, double-crossing, and wearing masks that enable them to perfectly impersonate other characters. Sometimes, like with De Palma’s movie, there is so much lying and double-crossing that when the final credits roll everyone (including De Palma, I suspect) has lost track of what the hell is going on. “Ghost Protocol” doesn’t shy away from the lying, double-crossing or the masks. Trying to explain it in any meaningful way would only result in you (and me) feeling like we just watched the first “Mission: Impossible”.

The only unique things you need to know about “Ghost Protocol” ahead of time are: Cruise definitely sprints after bad guys, but this time it’s through a severe sandstorm in Dubai. He also definitely jumps off the top of a tall building (again, in Dubai). And the finale involves by far the best onscreen use of one of those fancy, sky scraping, fully automated parking garages I can remember.

It is a hell of a ride, and I know I’m not alone in that thinking. Pretty noticeable when only a single person gets up for a potty break in a packed theater during a 133-minute film.


Now for the second portion of the new title: the boob tube. With roughly 2,341 channels to choose from, we all have our own personal assortments of shows. We all have our own ways, even, in which we get our TV. Satellites, cable boxes, Netflix, Hulu or even the websites that allow some of us to, ahem, watch things without necessarily being on the up-and-up. Not that I would know anything about those types of sites. No matter what I cover here, someone’s going to disagree with some part of it.

Tell you what, though. I’m always looking for new shows to incorporate into my own assortment. Facebook me. Email me. Post at me via the blog ( Tell me what I’m missing.

I’m like the Green Bay Packers season ticket office: happy to add you to the waiting list. Several friends and a few references from writers I read have earned Showtime’s “Homeland” a spot on the list. Claire Danes as a bi-polar CIA agent? Sure, sign me up. Also currently on the waiting list: HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”, ABC’s “Lost” (retroactively), and FOX’s “Alcatraz” (coming in early 2012).

As Christmas nears and various TV shows wrap up their seasons, let me just give you a scattershot of what my personal TV assortment has included recently. “Dexter” (Showtime – about a serial killer in Miami that only kills bad guys) just finished its sixth season and the final 30 seconds of the finale were perhaps the best 30 seconds yet. The subject matter isn’t for everyone, but the show is executed masterfully.

I’m behind on “Breaking Bad” (AMC – about a high school science teacher who turns to dealing meth as a way to provide for his family after he’s diagnosed with cancer), but that show is mind-bendingly brilliant if you can stomach the gruesome parts. “The Walking Dead” (also AMC – all about zombies) has stayed remarkably interesting despite the played out apocalyptic premise.

NBC’s “Parenthood” (self explanatory) is a show everybody should give a chance. Dax Shepard can actually act, by the way. Weird. “Parks and Recreation” (also NBC) is probably the funniest show not nearly enough of you are watching regularly. “Terra Nova” (FOX) has dinosaurs and is watchable. And both “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race” (CBS) continue to be reliably good, even after the 301st and 299th seasons, respectively, just wrapped.

Finally, “The Office,” a show that once made me fall off a treadmill as I failed to simultaneously run and laugh, is done. It pains me to write that. I’ll still watch as long as it’s on, but it’s done.

Oh, as is any sitcom you can think of. I don’t care what you’re watching or how highly it’s rated. Sitcoms are dead. They’re not funny and actually make me angry they’re so bad. I’d rather (and do, thanks to my wife) watch “Sixteen and Pregnant” on MTV.

On that note, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Feel free to cyber-yell at me about any of the above before we do the next installment in January. I can take it. What I can’t take, is pretending “Two And A Half Men” is or ever was remotely funny.


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