Knee-jerk review: "Mission Impossible Rogue Nation"

1. The hanging-onto-the-side-of-a-plane-taking-off stunt that you've seen in all of the trailers and TV spots is undeniably eye-popping, but it doesn't top the ridiculous crawling-on-the-outside-of-a-skyscraper sequence from 2011's Ghost Protocol.
2. Tom Cruise may be a strangely optimistic and intensely driven person (so says our exclusive inside source), but you cannot deny that he is a movie star who knows how to project charisma and make well-oiled, audience-pleasing movies.  Aside: his sci-fi thriller Edge of Tomorrow is criminally underrated.
3. If the adage is true that great movies need only three great sequences, then Rogue Nation is a great movie.  Our favorite was the opera house sequence, which more than one critic has accurately described as "Hitchcockian."
4. That said, the movie's got a few too many climaxes.  It's too long by probably 20 minutes.  We chalk this up to writer-director Christopher McQuarrie's love of plot turns.
5. And how many times will Cruise's Ethan Hunt character have to go on the run to clear his name?  It's becoming a little predictable now.
6. Rebecca Ferguson is certainly a revelation, projecting sass and smarts and keeping the audience guessing as to her true loyalties.  You wonder if Rogue Nation's producers somehow missed the memo: this is an A-list tent-pole action movie here and they make a woman a co-lead rather than a tag-along, damsel-in-distress sidekick?
7. Ving Rhames doesn't look healthy to us.
8. We've always loved how these Mission: Impossible movies treat the credit sequence like an overblown version of a TV show, what with the rapid-fire editing of the "episode" we're about to watch.
9. And how can you not get pumped when that theme song kicks in?
10. Alec Baldwin's having a good time.  "30 Rock" notwithstanding, this is an actor who never got used the right way.
11. Not as good as Ghost Protocol, but it's a close second.

An Ode to Islands

A recent return to Los Angeles led us to revisit one of our favorite restaurants.  There's nothing all that special about Islands, although they do seem to have a well-deserved reputation for excellent skin-on french fries showered with secret spices.  If you mention Islands to someone, they'll probably mention the fries.  Aside from that, it's one memorable element is probably that it uses "hang ten" surf culture as its gimmick, from the plastic tropical birds and thatch roofed hostess stand to the cutesy menu item names and endless surfing footage that loops on all the TVs.  Prior to last weekend, we hadn't eaten at Islands since 2012 shortly before we moved back to Texas.  And so there was a certain pang of nostalgia as we took a bite of the Hula Burger (see? cutesy).  We started thinking about just how intertwined our 20s and 30s had been with Islands...

Our earliest memory of Islands dates back to 1999 - that's 16 years ago people - when we shared tacos with a film school friend to discuss movies and pop culture, like when we had dinner there after witnessing the abomination of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.  That was in Pasadena.  When we moved to West Hollywood, there was a closer Islands store in Century City with awful parking - that was where we had many mid-90s dinners with the ex-girlfriend (not always cheery in the numb, waning days of that relationship) who lived close by and that one late-90s Saturday lunch after a grueling morning of flag football with a married couple who soon got divorced and dropped out of our life.  And then we started to frequent the Islands in Glendale (often paired with a trip to Ikea) - that was the one we went to when our parents visited, the one where I was the first to tell an old friend that his ex-girlfriend was getting married, the one where I argued on the phone with a car salesman who was playing car salesman games. That was also the one we first shared with our girlfriend (who became our fiancee and then our wife) and, eventually, our daughter (the plastic birds weren't dumb to her, they were a source of amazement).

No, nothing special about Islands.  Except everything that happened to us and our friends on all those visits in those vinyl booths.