Archive for August 5, 2011

MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE (S3) Reviews: “The Bunker”/”Nitro” (spoilers)

“The Bunker” Parts 1 & 2: Jim gets the briefing on an 8-track in a car parked by a rather nice fountain; the footage in the car is probably stock, but the exterior footage seems new.  The mission: rocket scientist Rojak (Milton Selzer) is being held captive by Nameless Enemy Goverment #1 in a bunker deep underground, forced to build a revolutionary new missile for them so they won’t kill his wife Anna (Lee Meriwether, although dubbed by Barbara Bain throughout).  How a guy who looks like Milton Selzer rates a wife who looks like Lee Meriwether is not explained.  Anyway, Nameless Enemy Government #2 is even more worried about the missile than America is, so they’ve sent their top assassin, Ventlos, to kill Rojak.  The team must destroy the missile and save Rojak before Ventlos gets to him.

Ventlos is something I’ve always wanted to see in this show: an enemy counterpart to the team itself, someone actively trying to subvert their goals.  Specifically, Ventlos is a counterpart to Rollin, a master of disguise.  Even before the IMF team manages to get anywhere near the bunker, Ventlos infiltrates it by killing and impersonating its security chief Praedo (Jack Donner, Tal from Star Trek: “The Enterprise Incident”).  There’s a superbly executed scene where Praedo is confronted and killed by Ventlos disguised as him (i.e. with Donner in both roles in the same scene), with near-seamless transitions between the two achieved purely by fast pans from one to the other or by the actor’s body obscuring the camera, no split screens or other visual effects required.

Meanwhile, Jim infiltrates the bunker by playing another security officer, establishing his bona fides by having Barney fake a machine-gun attack on his car just as the head of the operation, Col. Ziegler (David Sheiner), drives up to see it.  Jim has a large gadget with him that he says is a detector for a chemical hand stamp system he’s been sent to set up.  Jim tells them that Ventlos is after Rojak — a rare instance of an IMF member telling the unvarnished truth to the enemy, because they have a common enemy in Ventlos — and hopes the hand stamps will help them distinguish real personnel from an impostor.  Ironically, the first person Jim stamps is “Praedo,” unaware that it’s really the very assassin he’s trying to stop.

Meanwhile, Cinnamon, looking rather striking with black hair, arrives as another military officer whom Jim exposes as an impostor, an accomplice who arrived expecting Ventlos to have replaced Jim.  The actual Ventlos knows this is untrue, but can’t react.  What he makes of it will remain unknown.  Cinnamon gets thrown in jail next to Anna.  Willy, disguised as a workman, Santa Clauses his way down the chimney and breaks out Cinnamon and Anna, leaving Cinnamon in Anna’s place while taking the real Anna out.  (Here they do something totally ridiculous.  Cinnamon pulls off a mask of her own face to reveal a mask of Anna underneath it! That makes no sense.  Why not just have Willy bring in the Anna mask for Cinnamon to put on in the cell?)  Willy and Anna ride a winched rope up the incinerator chimney just as a workman dumps the trash and lights it up.  This is the part-1 cliffhanger, though it’s underwhelming since Willy and Anna are already halfway up the chimney when the fire starts, so they’re not really in that much danger.

As usual for this show, the recap in Part 2 is incredibly long.  It’s about 7 minutes and 10 seconds before we get the “Part Two” caption, and even then the first 20 seconds are reused chimney footage from Part 1.  Willy and Anna get out safely, and since Rojak is refusing to cooperate, the guards come to get Cinnamon-as-Anna in order to threaten her life so Rojak will cooperate (which was the other element of the cliffhanger).  And in the scenes that are supposed to be Cinnamon wearing an Anna mask, I can’t help noticing that Lee Meriwether has a considerably sleeker figure than Barbara Bain.  Anyway, Cinnamon manages to whisper in Rojak’s ear and pass him instructions to play along until 2 PM, when he’s to unfasten the ventilation grille in his lab/prison.

This is the other reason for Jim’s big detection gadget.  Hidden in it is a remote-controlled flying saucer which Jim hides in the ventilation ducts so that Barney can remotely pilot it to Rojak’s lab.  This sort of gizmo could be done for real today, but here it was hung on wires that unfortunately are quite obvious.  (Indeed, in some shots they try to “prove” it’s not on wires by hanging and shooting it sideways to make it look like there was a solid ceiling above it, but the wires are so easy to see that the illusion totally fails.  I assume it wouldn’t have been so obvious on 1960s TV screens, but even so, they could’ve done better.)  The saucer carries a drug and instructions for Rojak to inject himself with it to simulate a heart attack and call for his wife.  The bad guys need to call in a heart specialist, and Rollin has set himself up (via a news conference) as a heart specialist who happens to be in town.  So with a little prompting from Jim, Ziegler calls in Rollin.

Unfortunately, when Ventlos-as-Praedo gets Rollin alone, he knocks him out — and then he Rollins Rollin!  He makes a quick mask and takes over Rollin’s identity as the doctor (though he doesn’t know the doctor is already a fake).  For no good reason, he leaves Rollin unconscious rather than killing him as he did Praedo.  Other than that, it’s a cool twist — instead of seeing Rollin disguise himself as someone else, we see an enemy disguise himself as Rollin, leaving our heroes unaware.  But only briefly.  Jim promptly notices that “Rollin” is acting strange, and when he approaches and whispers Rollin’s name, it surprises Ventlos, tipping Jim off that this isn’t Rollin.  He fights off Ventlos and warns the others, saving Rojak.  But Ventlos flees into the fuel room and screws up the mixture so it will explode.  Since TV physics apply, it’s possible for the scientist to calculate that they have exactly 7 minutes until it blows — which, by an astonishing coincidence, will be 3 PM on the dot.  An evacuation begins, but Jim knocks out Ziegler and locks the main enemy scientist in the lab/cell with the missile plans.  Jim, Cinnamon, and the recovered Rollin get away with Rojak and try to get out in the missile’s special elevator before the kaboom happens.  It’s a long, slow sequence as the elevator and the fuel sensor gauges climb and climb and climb and (yawn) climb some more.  But it culminates in some very big bangs, an orgy of explosions that continues until the final shot of the heroes driving away.  (And yes, we do get a shot of them running from an explosion behind them.)

Overall, this was a good one, with a marvelous twist of having an enemy agent working against the team and using their own methods to pursue his own antagonistic goals.  The episode is full of masks and disguises — Ventlos as Praedo, Cinnamon as Anna, Ventlos as Rollin.  (I’m beginning to wonder why, in this world where spies use masks all the time, security people don’t routinely pull at people’s necks to see if their faces will come off.  Even the most paranoid bad guys who insist on thoroughly searching everyone never think to check for masks or wigs.)  It’s got some excellent direction and cinematography, notably the doubling of Jack Donner (and another seamless in-camera shot that pans from Donner in the mirror starting to pull his mask off to Ventlos’s portrayer Ray Baxter finishing the removal, done in a single take by having the actors positioned just right).  It’s got a partly new score by Richard Markowitz, and the original music is more distinctive and interesting than Markowitz’s previous M:I scores, even sounding a bit Gerald Fried-esque in the under-credits sequence of Part 1.

It does have a few drawbacks, though.  On top of the problems I’ve mentioned, it’s awfully padded, with a lot of scenes dragging on interminably.  There’s more than a single episode’s worth of story here, but not enough to fill two.  They could’ve filled the episode out more by developing the characters further instead of just padding the scenes.  True, the show rarely delved into the main characters, but it could’ve explored Rojak, Anna, and the antagonists more.

Also, there seems to be a mini-theme developing lately, first in “The Glass Cage” and now here, of putting Cinnamon in situations where she must be thoroughly searched — by men, apparently — to get into a high-security installation.  Here it happens to her twice, first as the impostor, then as Anna (the same fake first name she used in “The Glass Cage,” by the way).  Of course it’s entirely off-camera, but that’s just what makes me wonder if there wasn’t some kind of sexual innuendo intended.

Still, drawbacks aside, this 2-parter is one of the strongest installments of the season to date.

“Nitro”: The briefing, oddly, is on a microfilm reel in an office somewhere.  A microfilm reel with a soundtrack?  And while we see Jim turning the handle continuously to play the audio, the faces are shown frame-by-frame.  Weird.  Anyway, the mission is to stop a warmongering general named Zek (Titos Vandis) in a Middle Eastern country from scuttling the peace treaty between his king and a neighboring country, something he plans to do by blowing up the Government House when the king is in it announcing the treaty, then leaving evidence to pin the bombing on the other nation.  We get a dossier sequence to show that Jim has recruited the help of an official in the king’s government, General Tamaar (Dick Latessa).

The plan is to have Rollin impersonate a mysterious terrorist named Hakim, a bomber who favors using nitroglycerine despite its extreme volatility.  Zek and his accomplice Najiid (Sandor Szabo), owner of an explosives factory, have hired Skora (Mark Lenard) to blow up the building with cordite.  The team abducts Skora and knocks him out.  Then Rollin-as-Hakim breaks into Najiid’s explosives factory to steal some nitroglycerine, a very delicate and risky operation.  (Barney infiltrated the factory to reprogram their computers to open the vault and shut down the alarms.)  He and Willy get away in a truck, but a bullet fired by the guards grazes the brake line.  Rollin disguises himself as Skora and disguses the unconscious Skora as Hakim.  He tells Zek that the cordite plan won’t work due to the geology under the building.  So they need a backup plan.

Jim plays a journalist who pegs Cinnamon as a “special friend” of Hakim, so when Zek & Najiid’s people somehow find “Hakim,” who seems dead as an effect of the drug, Cinnamon can be questioned as a co-conspirator.  (Cinnamon says it was his heart that killed him, which seems ironic for someone so fond of nitroglycerine.)  Rollin-as-Skora suggests adopting Hakim’s plan to blow up Government House with nitro in the radio-controlled truck, and convinces Cinnamon to take them to the controller.  When the time comes, they put Skora-as-Hakim, still out of it, at the wheel of the truck.  While the king makes his speech on TV, Zek is listening by radio to “Skora” and an aide as they control the truck.  Rollin and Barney knock out the aide and Rollin impersonates his voice (easy enough, since the aide has been dubbed throughout by Martin Landau with his voice electronically deepened).  They use sound effects and Rollin’s Herbert Morrison-style narration to make Zek think the bomb has hit, while Jim sabotages the TV transmission to further sell the illusion.  That prompts Zek to make a broadcast announcing the king’s death, while the king looks on in surprise.  Meanwhile, Jim and Willy, with complicity from Tamaar, have slipped Najiid a drug that feigns illness and partial paralysis, so he can’t leave the building.  When Barney radio-controls the truck toward the building, making it look like “Hakim” is starting his bombing run (and that Zek jumped the gun with his announcement, I guess), Najiid is forced to confess the whole plot to the king and Tamaar.  But gasp, the brake fluid has all leaked out and Barney can’t stop the nitro-laden truck!  He finally manages to make the gears sieze up just before it hits.  “Hakim” is brought before the king and he dazedly pulls off his mask, revealing Skora.  The king orders the bad guys arrested.

This one doesn’t hold together well.  Why did the IMF make things so dangerous for themselves by choosing to impersonate a terrorist who favored nitroglycerine?  How did the bad guys find the truck after the theft?  And I’m not really sure any of this was necessary.  Why not just have Tamaar warn the king about the terrorist plot?  If they knew Skora was planning to plant bombs, why not let him start doing it and catch him in the act?  I guess they had to ensure that Zek and Najiid confessed they were behind it, but they could’ve had Rollin-as-Skora wear a wire while he talked to the conspirators, thus exposing them.  It really wasn’t necessary to go through this insanely dangerous nitroglycerine theft and stage a plan that came within inches of actually causing the explosion they were trying to prevent.  Ultimately it just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

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What happens to delay a dream?

This morning just before I woke up, I had a dream in which I was walking through Seattle, then getting on a bus and trying to figure out how to get to Sea-Tac Airport so I could go home, and I needed to call someone but I couldn’t find my cell phone.  It was the kind of dream I’ve had many times in my life, where I’m trying to figure out the way home but can’t seem to get any closer to my destination no matter what I do, and it seems natural enough to combine that with my memories of my trip to Seattle.  But why did my brain wait so long to toss this one out there?  The memories that the dream is based on are from May 3, just over three months ago.  And it was just a month ago that I was in Baltimore, so if I was going to have a “lost in an unfamiliar city” dream, why not Baltimore instead of Seattle?

Well, maybe it’s because my “can’t find a route home” dreams usually involve buses (since that was my main mode of transportation for a large part of my life), and the last time I rode buses was during my Seattle trip, since I drove to Shore Leave.  Plus maybe I’ve been to Baltimore enough times that it’s not as unfamiliar as Seattle.

Although of course my memory of Seattle is imperfect, so the intersection where I caught the bus in my dream was a fusion of the intersection where I caught a Seattle bus in reality and a Cincinnati intersection that I often drive through when going to the West Side (and used to ride through on the bus quite frequently when I lived over there).  I remember thinking, during the walking part of my dream, that the walk seemed considerably shorter than it had been the “first” time I did it.  I guess that’s because my brain was condensing various parts of my walk through Seattle onto a mental map of that more compact area in Cincinnati.  They’re not even that similar, but I guess my brain chose that intersection because I drove through it just a few days ago when I went to see a movie and go shopping.  (It was Captain America.  Excellent movie, but I picked a lousy theater to see it in.)  But that just underlines how odd it is that I’d have a dream this morning about something that happened three months ago.  (Well, unless I’ve had several dreams about it but this was the first one I remembered.  The only dreams I ever remember are the ones that happen directly before I wake up.)

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