View from the Couch
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Date: 04 December, 2006
This month, Steve Couch reviews the DVDs of Mission Impossible III and United 93, plus there's a round-up of Christmas releases.
Use the links to order the DVDs from amazon.co.uk and Christian Aid will receive a percentage of the sale.
Mission Impossible III
The third instalment in the most protracted franchise in recent movie history (three films in ten years) suffered from the underwhelming impact made by its immediate predecessor. Much less money changed hands at the box office than for the lacklustre M.I.2, but this is a much better film.
Directed and co-written by Alias creator J.J. Abrams, this is an enjoyable thriller with plenty of the obligatory scenes of Tom Cruise doing that peculiar high-armed running that is the defining feature of his movie career. The hand of Abrams is clearly visible.
The movie opens with a brief, tense, flash-forward which precedes an hour and a half of bringing us back to where we started – a familiar device to any long-time Alias fans. More blatantly, Simon Pegg’s enjoyably nerdy tech wiz Benji is as close to Alias’ Marshall as corporate entertainment lawyers will allow.
In the years since M.I.2, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) has stepped back from active field work with I.M.F. for a role training new operatives. But – who would have thought – he soon gets drawn back to the action. We get the obligatory intricately planned missions, explosions and high tech gizmos. The end result is genuinely exciting, and great fun too. There are twists and turns of the plot along the way, and although I was convinced I knew where it was going, I still found myself significantly wrongfooted on at least one occasion. And in Philip Seymour Hoffman, the franchise has found its most genuinely chilling villain to date.
There’s a fine array of extras too, including a commentary by Tom Cruise and the exuberant Greg Proops lookalike J.J. Abrams.
This is a good film which, while not living up to the delights of Cruise’s first Mission Impossible movie, far surpasses M.I.2 and deserves more of an audience than it found at the cinemas. If you’ve bypassed this because you had given up on the Mission Impossible franchise, you should think again. If you’re a fan of J.J. Abrams and Alias, you will find much to enjoy here. And if you’re a fan of ludicrously high-armed, intense running, oh boy – have we got a treat for you!
Safe to say, this recreation of the events of the fourth September 11th plane, is no feelgood movie. It’s an uncomfortable and emotionally demanding movie, but it doesn’t resort to cheap sensationalism or emotional manipulation, which writer/director Paul Greengrass should be commended for.
There are no big stars or recognisable faces, and some of the characters – notably the man in charge of Air Traffic Control on the day – are played by themselves rather than actors. While nobody knows for certain what took place on United 93, the whole film carries an air of realism. There is a gratifying lack of back story to passengers and hijackers alike. We get a clear sense that each has a life outside of the plane, but we aren’t subjected to lengthy exposition about the wheelchair-bound mother who will be left without a carer, the children who will be left without a father, and so on.
The magnitude of the act of terrorism is not ignored, but neither are the hijackers demonised or dehumanised, and there is little sense of political axes being ground. United 93 is a long way from being a warm and cosy night in, but it is a fine piece of film making which will live long in the memory. Essential viewing.
Click here for the Damaris study guide for United 93
Well what a surprise. With Christmas just around the corner, those nice people at various DVD distributors have lined up a bumper crop of their products for us to spend our money on. Here’s an overview of what you might be interested in for the movie and TV fan in your life:
A few high profile movies are coming out between now and Christmas, but falling the wrong side of my deadline: Johnny Depp and company return for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, which may not have received the universal praise of its predecessor, but is generally accepted to be a thoroughly enjoyable romp; Pixar’s latest, Cars, is another reliable investment for young and old alike; Michael Mann’s big screen version of Miami Vice, the TV show that made his name; Jack Black’s latest excuse to wear unflattering skintight lycra, the wrestling monk movie Nacho Libre and, probably the biggest news of all, Superman Returns at the beginning of December.
Click here for the Damaris Study Guide for Miami Vice.
Riding the cape-tails of the new Superman movie (and, faster than a speeding bullet, beating it into the shops) is The Christopher Reeve Superman Collection. All of the 80s Superman movies, including a reconstructed version of the movie that director Richard Donner wanted to make with Superman 2 before being fired and replaced with Richard Lester. If you’re a serious Superman fan (personally, I always preferred Spidy), this is real treasure trove.
If my review above has whetted your appetite for Tom Cruise’s Impossible antics, you should know that there is a five disc Impossible Missions Collection, containing all three films , as well as a separate release of the first series of the original 60s TV show Mission Impossible. 28 classic episodes, but I can’t guarantee that the discs won’t self destruct once you’ve watched them once.Two Monty Python collections stand out from the list of recent releases. There are 6 discs worth of material in Monty Python’s Personal Bests Collection. All, apparently, the hand-picked favourites of the respective Pythons. Even more expansive is the seven disc extravaganza Monty Python The Movies. Both sets will be on release from mid November. You can also currently buy a four disc “director’s son’s cut” of Terry Jones’ Erik The Viking, if that’s what floats your longboat.
Staying on the aquatic theme, Disney’s The Little Mermaid is re-released in November in a 2 disc special edition. Younger children may be more excited by one or more of the following releases:
This column accepts no responsibility for any loss of sanity that results from prolonged exposure to these programmes.
On a slightly more serious note, David Attenborough’s monumental Planet Earth series is now available with over 5 discs of goodies, including making of’s and a serious look at some of the environmental issues raised by the series. Amazon are also offering an exclusive 9 disc set that covers Planet Earth along with Attenborough’s The Blue Planet.
There’s plenty of weighty TV drama, including the latest seasons of 24, Doctor Who (with the option of a limited edition Cyberman’s head box to keep your discs in!), Alias, Shameless, Desperate Housewives and Lost.
For an even bigger dent in your pocket, consider West Wing: The Complete Series. Buy this and you won’t need to go out again for months. More than that, you won’t need to buy another DVD for months – which might leave me out of a job with this column. Even so, it’s still so good that I wouldn’t blame you if you bought it and made me redundant.
Click here for the Damaris study guide to Season 7 of The West Wing.
is a complete set of the deliciously quirky Alaska-based drama, which seems to have been largely forgotten in recent years.
Completists who prefer home grown drama might be interested in Cracker: The Complete Collection, Mercifully, they haven’t released it in a seasonal box labelled ‘Christmas Cracker’, but there’s always next year.
Comedy DVDS to consider include the delightfully stupid first season of My Name Is Earl, as good a comedy series to cross the atlantic as we’ve seen in many years.
In similar vein, Series 1 and 2 of The Catherine Tate Show are brought together under the title Am I Bovvered?.
Far more excitingly, Green Wing Series 1 and 2 is available now, as is Peep Show Series 1, 2 and 3 – riding the coat tails of stars David Mitchell and Robert Webb’s successful BBC 2 sketch show (and look out for that to be released in the coming months).
But the winner of the biggest price tag award goes to the James Bond Limited Edition Attache Case Ultimate Editions Box Set. All of the Bond films (apart from the new version of Casino Royale) with no less than 40 discs of material. From the sublime (most of Connery, most of Brosnan), to the ridiculous (most of Moore, Die Another Day) and everything inbetween. Now every day can be a Bank Holiday.