spy film

REVIEW: Johnny English Strikes Again (2018)

When all the identities of MI7 Agents are revealed in a cyber-attack, the government is forced to recall retied agent Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson), who is the only agent left that might be able to find the hacker.

This is the third Johnny English film and to be honest I have a bit of a soft spot for the series, mainly because of the memories I have of who I was with when I saw each film.

The plot is simple, future events are signposted incredibly obviously, and the villain is so obvious it’s almost painful, but a convoluted plot is not what you get with these movies. There is fun to be had though – a virtual-reality-induced escapade across London is innovative and funny.

It’s Rowan Atkinson’s physical humour that is the best thing about this film and the character, it’s just a shame there wasn’t more of it. there’s a scene where English has taken some adrenalin drugs and Atkinson’s body movements, alongside the different songs playing was brilliant. English’s incompetence that verges on accidentally brilliance is charming albeit predictable, but Atkinson makes it fun.

Johnny English Strikes Again is family fun for all ages. The showing at the cinema I was at had grandparents with young grandkids, and people of all ages between. It’s nice to watch a film that’s silly and fun without violence and sex-references (thankfully the mysterious Ophelia played by Olga Kurylenko is not set up as a love interest at all) and it’s an easy-watch with its less than 90 minutes runtime. 3/5.

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CREATOR INTERVIEW: Dave Morgan

Today I have something a bit different to share with you all. Meet Dave Morgan, a writer, director and RTS Award Winning producer, who is currently running a crowdfunding campaign for his spy web series Discretion. I asked him a few questions about the project, the team that are bringing it all together, and what it’s really like to crowdfund a project.

First of all, please introduce yourself and Discretion
Well, as your intro brilliantly stated, I’m Dave. Hello! I’m a writer, director, and Royal Television Society Award winning producer from Liverpool. I mainly work on independent short films and web series’, but I have also worked on much larger productions all over the country as well.

My new web series is called Discretion. It follows the story of Tom, an ill-prepared newly recruited MI5 agent on his first assignment that goes very wrong. Tom’s boss and the head of MI5, George, is called into an Inquiry where he leans that both of their jobs are on the line. But things are much worse than expected, Tom has disappeared, two terrorists have broken out of Belmarsh Prison, and Sophie, Tom’s partner at MI5, has no leads to finding them.

Where did you get the idea of Discretion from?
The idea spun out of my love for the James Bond and Jason Bourne films, as well as the TV series’ Spooks and 24. I had many different ideas for crime films that I wanted to write, but they all had quite similar characters and tones to the stories, so I decided to rewrite the outlines, unify the characters and universes of the films, and turn them into a TV series. And thus, Discretion was born.

Why have you chosen to tell Discretion as a web series?
The reason we’ve gone with a web series is because that’s where most of an audience is now; Online. The BBC recently moved one of their channels online because of that exact reason. It’s where our audience is.

Espionage is also moving into a very digital age, so we’re trying to keep in line with that.

Who are you working with to bring this story to life?
We have an amazing crew lined up for the series including myself, Neal McAndrew, a lifelong friend of mine who is co-writing and co-producing the series with me. We have James Pearson of Pearson Casting who is our Casting Director, James Llyal who is one of our Cinematographers on the series, and Matthew Hirons who is our script editor. That’s just to name a few, we’ll have more big announcements in the coming months so keep an eye on our Twitter and Facebook pages.

We all believe passionately that independent talent and independent film and TV for that matter, is something that needs to be pushed and promoted in the industry. So that is what we are doing with Discretion. We’re getting a group of really talented people on board and showing their skills to the world.

Neal McAndrew (left) and Dave Morgan (centre) on set

Why did you choose to crowdfund the project and what’s your aim with the campaign?
Most people assume that if you go to crowdfunding then you’re desperate for the money, but that’s definitely not the case with Discretion. The reason we’ve chosen to crowdfund the budget for the series is to raise awareness for Independent filmmakers and Independent films and series’.

The big leagues of the film world are dominated by remakes/reboots, sequels, and things we’ve seen hundreds of times before. What I want to do with my company, DLM Media, is look to first time Writers & Directors and find brand new, fresh talent in the industry and get some really new ideas on screen. Discretion is the perfect example of what we can achieve through crowdfunding with the help of likeminded people who also support Independent films.

When it comes to crowdfunding, what are the most surprising or difficult things you’ve encountered?
By far, one of the most difficult things about crowdfunding is getting people to give their hard-earned cash to a stranger on the internet, in that it is only becoming more and more difficult with the amount of people who are turning to crowdfunding.

There are many challenges to crowdfunding, but, personally, I find that getting people to just take a few minutes and look at the crowdfunding page is the most difficult. You really have to tap into your communities that the film represents. And when you’re a brand-new company, with a new, original idea, that is very difficult to do.

Where can people learn more about Discretion and follow your campaign?
The best places to go to are the Indiegogo page, our Twitter and Facebook pages, and of course our official website (www.discretionws.com).

The Indiegogo page is the best place to look for what you can get out of the series and what you can do to help us. We have some amazing perks on offer and a chance to spend some truly personal time with the cast and crew over dinner, on set, and during the table read. There’s also the opportunity to be in the film yourself!

My favourite perk has to be the film stills. I will personally be choosing 2 stills from each episode, printing them onto celluloid, and presenting them in a framed collage with information about the series and an exclusive “collection number”. These will never be on sale anywhere else in the world so now is the time to get your hands on one!

Thank you to Dave for taking the time to talk about Discretion. Make sure you check out the Indiegogo page and follow Discretion on social media so you can keep up to date with the journey to bring Discretion to screen.

REVIEW: Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team race against time to find some missing plutonium. As his team travel around the world on the tail of a terrorist organisation, they encounter old enemies and old friends and Ethan begins to doubt who he can trust.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is the sixth film in a franchise that has been going for 22 years now. This is the first film in the series that has a returning director, Christopher McQuarrie, and it’s the first one that’s more of a direct sequel. Generally, the Mission: Impossible films can stand apart from one another as the only connecting features are Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and Ving Rhames’ Luther Stickell, and while you can certainly follow what’s happening in Fallout without seeing Rogue Nation, having that prior knowledge adds extra depth to characters and their motivations.

This is a franchise known from its stunts and in many ways, Fallout is one thrilling set piece after another. There’s electric fight sequences – the standout being Hunt and CIA Agent Walker (Henry Cavill) against a suspected terrorist in a bathroom – chase sequences that go from a car chase to a motorbike chase seamlessly, and there’s Tom Cruise jumping from buildings, dangling from helicopters and doing a HALO jump from 25,000 feet. These are all edge of your seat stuff. The action sequences and stunts are all shot well, there’s no shaky cam here, and knowing that it’s Tom Cruise who is putting himself in dangerous situations to entertain adds to the drama.

The stunts are spectacular and jaw-dropping, but thanks to the script and performances Fallout isn’t style over substance. There’s a lot of heart in this film, as Ethan is a man who has his regrets and his principles, mainly not wanting to trade the life of one person for the lives of millions. The relationships Ethan has formed over the course of this franchise are a major part of his motivations and the story as a whole.

The plot itself is full of twists and turns, some more obvious than others, with many characters having hidden agendas. Isla Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) returns with her own mission while head of the CIA Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) doesn’t trust Hunt so puts Walker, a trained assassin, on his team. These combinations of characters, new and old, lead to some brilliant dialogue and chemistry. There is humour to be found from Fallout, and it’s not Simon Pegg’s Benji being comic relief. The humour here is very natural, coming from characters finding themselves in increasingly unpredictable situations, and the laughs never take away from the moments of tension or drama.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is a tense, relentless action-packed thrill ride. It’s a technically brilliant film, from Lorne Balfe’s score to the beautiful cinematography from Rob Hardy. Fallout is a film where every aspect of it shines. 5/5.

REVIEW: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

When the IMF is dissolved, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is on a mission to find out the truth about the Syndicate – an international rogue organisation as highly skilled as the IMF were. As he tries to track down a mystery figure, he encounters Isla Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), a woman with her own agenda. Ethan and the remnants of his team are unsure if they can trust her, but they may not have a choice as the Syndicate steps up their dangerous game.

Rogue Nation starts off with one of the biggest stunts in the series which is a thrill ride and shows you just what the Mission Impossible series is about. Unfortunately, the film can never really top that. It’s still a well-paced action film with some great fights, car chases and stunts and it’s also a lot of fun.

Rogue Nation has more of a spy thriller feel to it that the first Mission: Impossible had. It has shady agents with their own agendas, there’s the head of the CIA Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) breathing down Agents Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Dunn’s (Simon Pegg) necks, as they try and aid Ethan without being detected, and a villain who is more like a ghost that Ethan is constantly chasing after. Rogue Nation does a good job blending together the action spectacle and the espionage thriller aspects to make an entertaining and exciting film.

Isla Faust is a fascinating character. She’s not just the female-version of Ethan Hunt (which she so easily could’ve been), she has her own motivations, flaws and personality. She’s a skilled fighter, she’s smart and is the kind of character that you believe is a badass secret agent.

The final showdown in Rogue Nation is more of character-driven one rather than a spectacular action sequence. This makes it tense as it involves characters you’ve seen across a number of films now so have seen their relationship grow. 4/5.

REVIEW: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

When the IMF is implicated in the bombing of the Kremlin, it’s shut down and all agents are disavowed. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team are on their own as they race against time to clear their organisations name and stop a potential nuclear war.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is a thrill ride from the very beginning and the action never really stops. It does so many things right. The humour, which generally comes from all the fantastic characters and their interactions, lands every time, giving you a short rest bite before the next tense action sequence begins.

With Ethan this time are Agents Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Jane Carter (Paula Patton), and analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) who has his own secrets. These four characters gel together very well, and the chemistry between the four of them makes them feel like a solid team. And they need to be a solid team as just about everything that can go wrong with their mission does. The tech is faulty, they must improvise, and they have no back up.

The iconic stunt in Ghost Protocol is Ethan scaling the side of the Burj Khalifa and it looks incredible. The heights he’s at is enough to make anyone feel queasy. The whole sequence in the Burj Khalifa, both the stunt itself and everything else that happens in that building, manages to be tense, funny and exciting. It’s not just the big stunts that look good, the fight sequences are all well-shot and easy to follow.

While naturally Ethan Hunt is the lead, and Tom Cruise is the star, of this franchise, Ghost Protocol is the first film in the series where the team does indeed feel like a team that solves the problem together. Each character has multiple times to shine and show off their skills which is great. It’s not only the core team that are relevant and interesting, it’s the secondary characters too. Naturally some get more screen time than others, but you’re never bored when Russian agent Sidorov (Vladimir Mashkov) or assassin Moreau (Léa Seydoux) are on screen.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is fantastic. The characters are brilliant, the action sequences are gripping, and it’s a film that never really slows the pace. It’s a non-stop action thrill ride with likeable character who you want to see succeed when all the odds are against them. It’s the best. 5/5.

REVIEW: Mission: Impossible III (2006)

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is trying to balance his life as an IMF agent and his attempt at a normal life with his fiancée Julia (Michelle Monaghan) when manipulative arms dealer Owen Davian (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) who is set to steal and sell an item known only as the Rabbits Foot comes onto the IMF’s radar.

Mission: Impossible III is a good mix of intrigue, action and more emotional depth when it comes to Ethan Hunt. Ethan has semi-retired and is in love and wants to settle down with nurse Julia. While it would’ve been nice to see these two meet and fall in love, Cruise and Monaghan’s chemistry more than makes up for that. Also, Julia isn’t stupid, she knows there’s something up with Ethan and his “business trips” but she trusts him enough that he will tell her what’s going on with him when needed.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman is satisfyingly menacing as Davian. He’s calm under pressure and always seems to be a few steps ahead of Ethan and his team. Davian plays underhand, threatening people Ethan cares about including Julia, and is an intimidating presence even when he’s not on screen.

The action sequences are exciting, especially the showdown on a bridge. One of the main set pieces in Mission: Impossible III is when Ethan and his team infiltrates the Vatican. That sequence shows off all the spy tech and how good these guys are at their jobs. Mission: Impossible III definitely spaces out the action, instead focusing more on the characters and the idea there’s people at IMF that might not be trusted.

Mission: Impossible III is a good action flick with solid performances from Cruise, Monaghan and Hoffman. Ethan’s team does get left by the wayside during the final act and the Rabbit Foot is a McGuffin which causes the characters to act and it really is a surface level plot point. At its heart Mission: Impossible III is about Ethan and Julia and it’s probably the most character driven film of the series. 3/5.

REVIEW: Mission: Impossible (1996)

As the latest film in the Mission Impossible series is released at the end of July, I thought I’d rewatch the series and review them all, posting a review a week leading up to Fallout’s release.

When his team is killed, and he’s presumed to be a traitor, Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) must discover and expose the real traitorous spy without the help of his organisation.

Mission: Impossible is great because it feels like an old-fashioned spy thriller rather than a full-on action film. It focusses on the mystery behind who is the real mole in the organisation and while the set-pieces it has are gripping, it’s very much a character driven film.

The settings also make it feel almost timeless. The way the foggy streets of Prague are lit gives the scenes there an almost film-noir feel. Those scenes introduce the team, led by Jim Phelps (Jon Voight), showing how each of them fits into their roles, and some of their cool gadgets too, and how things can quickly unravel when there’s potentially a traitor in their midst.

The iconic sequence midway through the film, you know the one – Ethan Hunt is hanging on a wire, into a room where he cannot make a sound or touch the floor – is fantastic. It’s so tense and thrilling and a large part of that is due to the fact that there is no music. As soon as Hunt enters the room, it’s just the sounds the characters make that you can hear, nothing else. This cranks up the tension to almost nerve-wracking levels.

Mission: Impossible is a great spy thriller with a lot of twists and turns. The few action sequences are great, though the finale is a bit over the top. That being said, it’s a finale built on the revelations that Hunt, and the audience, has been seeking throughout the film, so it’s pretty satisfying. 4/5.