Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation does exactly what it is supposed to do: it provides action, thrills, suspense and a modest amount of sexual tension. Tom Cruise is back as Impossible Missions Force (IMF) agent Ethan Hunt with a new trademark stunt and a new motorcycle chase.

Holding of for dear life on the outside of a cargo plane as it ascends and flies through the air is impressive. Interestingly, this latest courageous Cruise daring action occurs just minutes into the film. An underwater mission to procure a computer file midway through the movie is tension-inducing as Hunt is forced to hold his breath for an extended period.

The basic plot: CIA head Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) wants the government to defund the IMF while an organization of rogue agents called The Syndicate wants to wipe out the IMF. Hunt with IMF teammates William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rames) work to take down The Syndicate and its leader Solomon Lane (Sean Harris).

As he does in the Star Trek films, Pegg adds a touch of welcome lightheartedness to the proceedings. He’s rapidly becoming one of my favorite character actors.

The gorgeous babe in the mix is Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), an appropriately named character since M:IRN has scenes set in Casablanca and elsewhere in Morocco. Ilsa’s allegiance initially appears to be to The Syndicate, but she’s on Hunt’s side in short order. Hers is a classy sexiness, but she wears a two-piece swimsuit and a yellow evening gown very nicely. There’s no Hunt-Ilsa hookup in the movie, but there’s an attraction bubbling under.

Settings include an opera performance in Vienna, a formal state event in London and… a used record store (where Ethan Hunt gets his instructions via disc).

Director/scriptwriter Christopher McQuarrie keeps the energy going with only brief pauses in the action. Yes, Tom Cruise overacts a bit, but that’s his thing and he does it well.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation hits its marks and checks off most of the items on the list of things you’d want in an action-adventure spy story. Enjoy the ride!

American Sniper

American Sniper is a red, white and blue story of a Texas cowboy who serves four tours of duty in Iraq. He is real life Navy Seal Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), a man with a deadly aim.

Kyle’s story, unlike those told in Lone Survivor, Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker includes significant amounts of time spent stateside between tours and after his final tour. Wife Taya (Sienna Miller) is supportive and understanding of the fact that he can’t dial things back when he’s at home. Kyle loves his family but keeps feeling the need to go back for more action.

And what action it is! Director Clint Eastwood brings a taste of what combat must be like in the Mideast, where you never know if a civilian has a bomb strapped to his or her body. The engagements Kyle and his crew have with the enemy reveal the peril that troops must constantly be aware of. (Some of the combat scenes were filmed in Morocco.)

Cooper’s not the guy I might’ve cast in this role, but he is excellent here. (Although his Texas accent tends to come and go.) He manages to bring both the hard edge of the warrior and a softer side as a husband and father. Cooper does have good range.

American Sniper enjoyed excellent buzz last year but failed to win significant love from year-end critics awards. Lately, though, buzz has trended up again and the film received 6 Oscar nominations including Best Film and Best Actor.

The Chris Kyle story has a sad ending. But Americans looking for a hero will find one in American Sniper.