Reviews

'Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol' Is One of the Best Action Films of 2011

From the high-flying prologue with Agent Hanaway (Josh Hollaway) to the final showdown in Mumbai, this story moves at a breakneck speed.


Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Director: Brad Bird
Cast: Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Michael Nyqvist, Lea Seydoux, and Josh Holloway
Distributor: Paramount
Rated: PG-13
Release date: 2012-04-17

The Mission Impossible franchise is one of those rare series where the style varies dramatically based on the director involved. Each of the four movies is an individual story that barely connects to the previous works. In a sense, it functions more like an episodic TV series than a closely connected adventure. Supporting characters appear in multiple films, but they don’t relate much to the past missions in terms of the plot.

The one exception is Tom Cruise, who brings some development to Ethan Hunt with each successive entry. Physically, he’s a super hero who can take a ridiculous amount of punishment, but his emotional ties connect across the series. That said, the latest film jettisons the more intimate feeling of the previous installment and focuses more on over-the-top action.

Ghost Protocol introduces Brad Bird to the world of live-action cinema, and he passes the challenge with flying colors. The biggest plus is the rapid pace, which rarely gives us a chance to breathe. From the high-flying prologue with Agent Hanaway (Josh Hollaway) to the final showdown in Mumbai, the story moves at a breakneck speed.

It’s a testament to Bird and the writers’ skills that we’re able to follow the plot without much difficulty. The exposition appears in the midst of the action, and it never feels like the characters are explaining just for our sake. Similar to Brian Depalma’s 1994 first film, Hunt and his team are playing catch up against a foe that’s always one step ahead. With few gadgets and no support, their chances are even slimmer this time to save the world from imminent destruction.

Hunt begins the story in a Moscow prison but is extracted by Agents Carter (Paula Patton) and Dunn (Simon Pegg). This is her first time working with him, but Pegg’s Dunn did appear in the previous movie. Following this escape, they’re off to the Kremlin on a daring mission to infiltrate its archives. Following a surprise disaster, the US President institutes “Ghost Protocol” and disavows the IMF. This is not good.

Joined by the mysterious Brandt (Jeremy Renner), they make a last-ditch effort to stop the terrorist Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist). There’s little mystery to who’s behind the attacks, but stopping him is another story.

The film’s show-stopping sequence occurs at the Burj Khalifa and lives up the hype. Cruise's character actually climbs up the side of the building hundreds of feet above the ground, and it’s a thrilling sequence. While the home viewing can never match up the excitement of seeing it on the IMAX screen, it still works pretty well. Although it’s the high point for pure thrills, Bird wisely follows this scene with a memorable chase through a sandstorm. We feel the same confusion as Hunt during his relentless pursuit, and even a brutal head-on collision fails to stop either guy. The rest of the movie can’t possibly live up to this combo, but it remains entertaining right up to the end.

This DVD/Blu-ray Combo pack includes several long documentaries that cover the various aspects of the production. “Mission Accepted” gives us a significant look at the three major shooting locations, Prague, Dubai, and Vancouver. Bird and Cruise provide interesting details, and we even get quick thoughts from JJ Abrams from the set of Super 8. Prague is standing in for Moscow, and Vancouver provides the setting for the parking structure scenes in Mumbai.

The footage of Cruise performing daring stunts in all three locations is something to see. The other major documentary is “Impossible Missions”, which offers brief items on the different behind-the-scenes elements. The longest cover the Russian prison sequence and the music, and those are the most interesting pieces. Seeing the tests of both the sand storm and the big collision are also a highlight. Each part can be viewed separately in both cases, which allows you to pick and choose the segments to check out.

The other significant extra is a collection of deleted scenes, which cover about 15 minutes. Optional commentary from Brad Bird is available to provide some insights. It’s interesting to see how the cuts from the first act helped to keep the pace moving. The actors are good, but they’re unnecessary scenes for our understanding of the movie. An alternative opening begins the film with Hendricks, which shifts the focus more to the villain. He’s mainly an afterthought for much of the story, and a few of these moments would have given him more significant screen time. These aren’t earth-shattering features, but they’re not just promotional and give us some decent background about the tricky production.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol feels surprisingly fresh when you consider the lukewarm reception to the third installment. I don’t believe that J.J. Abrams film gets its just due, but I still wasn’t clamoring for a fourth movie. The fact that Bird delivers such a knockout action movie is a great surprise and re-invigorates the franchise. Cruise’s off-screen antics have hurt his credibility in recent years, but he brings it once again as Hunt. It’s remarkable that he’s nearing 50 years old and can still work at this physical level.

He also has good chemistry with the supporting players, especially Simon Pegg. Nyqvist may be a forgettable villiain, but he’s basically secondary to the story. Hunt’s team is facing huge barriers and must do some remarkable things to even have the chance to stop Hendricks. That against-all-odds atmosphere permeates this story and makes it one of the best action films of 2011.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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