Movie Review: “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation movie poster

It’s been a few years since we last saw Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), and very little about him has changed in the intervening period. He’s still the same (mostly) stoic fellow, leading a team comprised primarily of the tech-savvy Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), with field-agent-turned-high-ranking-analyst-slash-desk-jockey William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) back stopping things from the DC-area. In this fifth installment of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, Hunt squares off against The Syndicate, a shadowy organization introduced at the tail end of 2011’s “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”.

 

William Brandt, played by Jeremy Renner, and Luther Stickell, played by Ving Rhames

William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames)

 

The Syndicate is busy shaping the world through the deliberate sowing of chaos and destruction–or so Hunt thinks. As he chases down what others consider merely a phantom or a figment of his overactive imagination, he crosses paths several times with the just-as-mysterious Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), whose steely gaze, badass moves, and strange unwillingness to pick a side both attract and confuse Hunt.

 

Ilsa Faust, played by Rebecca Ferguson

Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson)

 

Further complicating matters is that Hunt is collecting nemeses all over the place. Just as The Syndicate is trying to shut him down, so is CIA Director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin). Hunt dives headlong into a search of missing and presumed-dead agents from intelligence agencies worldwide, as he runs into several of them while pursuing The Syndicate. The trouble with The Syndicate, though, is that Hunt always seems to be one step behind them–an infuriating position for an agent typically used to being several moves ahead of his opponents.

Faust pops up periodically as Hunt chases The Syndicate through London, Vienna and Casablanca–including a stunning performance backstage at “Turandot” in Vienna, where Ferguson is wearing a silk dress as though she’s doing it a favor. The symbolism of the opera isn’t lost; in fact, the leitmotif of the eponymous character follows Faust throughout the movie from that point on, as she routinely leaves Hunt questioning her motives and allegiance.

 

Ilsa Faust, played by Rebecca Ferguson

Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) proving sisters are doing it for themselves

 

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” succeeds spectacularly is in its stunts and action sequences; it charges hard and fast throughout the majority of its two-hour, eleven minute run time, and Ferguson displays as much grit as she did in her title role as STARZ’s “White Queen”, but with far more gymnastic ability and an excess of endlessly impractical sky-high heels. Baldwin chews scenery with glee, relishing the opportunity to play the spoiler for Hunt, and Sean Harris’s turn as Solomon Lane makes one wonder if he has ice water running through his veins.

 

Ethan Hunt, played by Tom Cruise

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) hanging off the side of a plane, because starting a movie off calmly isn’t the “MI” style

 

As much as I loved this movie–and while I truly do believe this is the “Mission: Impossible” franchise’s best outing since the first in the series–its greatest failing is in how it handled some of its actors. Cruise couldn’t be more wooden, although he clearly enjoys his time as a stuntman. Renner is effectively wasted as Brandt; for a character introduced only one movie ago as having serious field agent skills, he’s relegated mostly to staring at Hunt with moony eyes, wishing he were that cool. He’s never let off leash, and that’s a terrific shame for an actor who sports both acting AND action chops.

 

Alan Hunley, played by Alec Baldwin, and Benji Dunn, played by Simon Pegg

CIA Director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) interrogating Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), in a rare serious and emotive moment allowed of Pegg

 

But the worst crime is in the handling of Pegg’s Dunn. Introduced in 2006’s “Mission: Impossible III”, Dunn is seen as a standout technology whiz in an organization with more than its fair share of smart people. Over his three movies, his lines increased in direct proportion to his application as comic relief. Benji has only a few scenes where he gets to be as serious as the material and, though Pegg is a brilliant comedian, it’s just unfair to make him the constant punchline when he has the capacity to be just as steely as the rest of the crew.

Of the veterans, Rhames, at least, seems to get exactly what he wants, and he approaches his role with the relish of a man knowing he’s collecting a good paycheck no matter how much time he has on-screen. He seems to be having nearly as much fun as Ferguson, and his ease at fitting into Stickell’s skin is highly evident.

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” is a fun thrill ride, despite its failure to capitalize on its talented stable of actors, particularly Renner and Pegg. What it does do, rather nicely, is provide some incredible action sequences and stunning performances by the likes of Ferguson and Harris, breathing new life into a franchise that’s perhaps not yet seen its last mission.

 

3 out of 4 stars

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” opens nationwide on July 31, 2015. This movie is rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, and brief partial nudity.

How to decide between BlogHer and Blogger Bash (or ANY blogging conference, for that matter)

This year marked my third BlogHer conference, and it was my first time heading to Blogger Bash–partially because the conferences happened to overlap this year, both time-wise and geographically. Now that I’ve been to both, I can definitely say that I have a much better understanding of both offerings. Since I’ve been to more than my fair share of conferences for blogging and work, it seemed like a good idea to break down the best ways to pick the right conference out of a crowded field. (I’ll say that I’m only talking about these two conferences specifically because I haven’t yet attended Blissdom, Bloggy Boot Camp, etc. You can check out Slapdash Mom’s thoughts on which blog conference is the best, if you want to hear from someone who’s experienced a wider array.)

Before I get into a general list of things to consider before choosing ANY type of conference, let’s first talk about BlogHer and Blogger Bash.

At its core, BlogHer is very much like a traditional conference; there are keynotes, break-out sessions and other birds-of-a-feather or track-based events, and an Expo for meeting sponsors and other vendors who paid to get in front of the attendees. It also has added events with special sponsors who pay for more intimate or exclusive access–through breakfasts, lunches, suite-based events, or other special affairs.

BlogHer sessions are more about content (writing, video, photography, etc.), so it really focuses a lot of attention on the voices within the blogs and the messages they’re relaying. Since BlogHer offers both “Full Conference” and “Expo/Party” (Networking) pass options, it’s important to understand just how much you’ll go to those keynotes and sessions before deciding on a pass. (Also, conference breakfasts and lunches are only included with the Full Conference passes.) As much as I’d like to attend the keynotes, my non-newbie status means that I just don’t get as much out of the sessions as I did in prior years. If I were to branch out into something new, like vlogging, then I might consider something other than Expo/Party again.

Blogger Bash, on the other hand, is more like a series of well-choreographed events that are organized under the aegis of a conference. The engines that drive Blogger Bash are the sponsors and sponsor-related events (like Sweet Suite), and it’s all about the connections with the brands. For those who really prefer the special events that are “on the side” for BlogHer, Blogger Bash puts those center stage and promotes those experiences first and foremost.

The opportunities are both unique and exciting at Blogger Bash, especially for those who write a lot of product reviews and/or who do sponsored content; above all, it’s about meeting up with brands, learning about their products (often from first-hand experience or flashy events), and engaging with the brands in ways that a standard Expo setup simply can’t provide. (That’s not to say that Blogger Bash lacks an Expo; it has one. However, it was modest in scale and manner by comparison to what it sported just the night before at Sweet Suite.)

So, here’s the checklist, if you’re trying to decide between BlogHer and Blogger Bash:

Comparison of BlogHer and Blogger Bash

And what about the wealth of other blogger conferences? Here are some questions to ask before registering:

Do you know anyone else who has ever attended that conference? What was their experience?

What are the sessions or events about? How well do those align with your niche(s) or area(s) of interest?

Who is speaking at the keynotes, sessions, and panels? Are these people of interest to you?

Are other bloggers you know or admire attending? Will going to that conference help you expand your network and build relationships with other bloggers?

What brand or organizational connections can you establish, maintain, or renew by attending?

It seems simpler than it is, but ultimately these are the basic questions that have to be answered. Of course, this also assumes that money and time aren’t factors (or they’re issues that have already been addressed).

And, speaking from experience, if you decide to attend more than one blogger conference simultaneously, as I did this year, make sure that you balance your schedule appropriately. With Blogger Bash only offering full conference passes, I wanted my time investment to match my financial one. That meant I had to go with the BlogHer Expo/Party (Networking) pass to keep from paying for an experience I knew I couldn’t manage. If you don’t have good time management skills, I would also recommend sticking to a single conference and focusing on the basics of the conference you’re attending. Adding on events outside the one you’re attending can make logistics and scheduling a nightmare if you can’t accurately forecast transit time, networking time, etc.

So go forth and find that which interests you. I know I’ll be at BlogHer ’16 — what about you?

 

Blogger Bash ’15: A newbie’s take in a 3×2 round-up

Blogger Bash

Originally, I wasn’t planning on going to one blogger conference this year, much less two of them, until it happened that I saw both BlogHer and Blogger Bash were scheduled for roughly the same timeframe in the same city. That created irresistible temptation: I could go to New York and check out Blogger Bash while also indulging in a scaled-down pass for BlogHer. And thus, that’s exactly what I did. (I’ll get to a comparison of the two in a later post.)

The first Blogger Bash was held in July 2014, and though I was curious about it I couldn’t manage to make the finances work to attend both that and BlogHer (in San Jose) within such a short span of time. Too much was already invested in flying West. This year, though, it was easy enough to score a room in the BlogHer home hotel, the Hilton Midtown, and just hoof it over to Pier 60–where Blogger Bash was held.

 

View of Pier 60

Pier 60 – our home for the two days (and some spectacular weather)

 

Since the plus/delta format seems to lend itself well to more concise explanations, I’m following that here to give my take on the event.

 

Plus

It had a boutique feel without the boutique price tag. Blogger Bash generally felt like something boutique-y: exclusive, chic, and hip; however, it wasn’t priced out of the range of mere mortals. In fact, I managed to score a discount by purchasing my ticket on Superbowl Sunday. (Slight delta: the way in which the discount was framed up was essentially “buy while your husband is distracted”, which I found a bit misogynistic. Truly, some of us gals like sports.)

 

Sweet Suite greeters - models on stools with floor-length skin-tight dresses, wielding giant lollipops

Our greeting for “Sweet Suite” (and the sequined lipstick was UH-MAY-ZING)

 

The events were done with flair AND substance. Sit-down affairs, like the Care Bears “Share Your Care” brunch and the Peanuts lunch, were flashy and meaty at the same time. Sure, you learned about the product that sponsored the event (the Care Bears’ upcoming products and media, as well as the Peanuts movie, respectively), but they didn’t lose their heart. In the former, American Greetings announced they were partnering with #ZachKapCares, a philanthropic project run by 10-year-old Zach Kaplan, to donate hundreds of Care Bears to homeless New York City children on the upcoming #ShareYourCare Day (September 9th). In the case of the latter, the Blogger Bash team managed to score a coup and get four of the principal actors to come on stage for a Q&A, along with the lead animator. It was a fascinating look inside the process and a great reminder of the timeless, universal appeal of Charles Schultz’s characters.

 

Brunch table for the Care Bears Share Your Care Brunch

Breakfast with the Care Bears – tasty, informative, and pretty darn awesome overall

 

Brand representatives were well-informed and genuinely interested in connecting. When I attended Thursday’s highlight (“Sweet Suite”–a massive toy expo), I met with several reps who were clearly far more interested in explaining their products than in just blindly handing out PR one-pagers. And, while I saw several things with which I was familiar, such as Disney Movies Anywhere (one of my favorite apps while traveling), I also was introduced to cool and creative items, like Modarri Cars’ modular plastic cars and Haywire Group’s Worry Eaters. The former allows children (of all ages and any gender) to put together the car of their own dreams–even to the point of painting and decorating it themselves, if they’d like. The Worry Eaters allow kids to tuck a written “worry” into a zippered pouch so they can begin to let go of whatever’s eating THEM. Two very different items but each with a special purpose. I spent quite a while talking with the ALEX rep, in particular, since their line expanded due to acquisition, and their rep was eager to explain the wide variety of toys, kits, and interesting products they now sell.

 

Modarri cars - mix and match as much as you'd like!

Modarri Cars – mix and match as much as you’d like!

Worry Eaters

Worry Eaters – use the zipper to let them “eat” the worry for your child (to help them let go and/or to help you read it later to spark conversation)

 

Deltas

Location, location, location. Sure enough, Pier 60 was made lovely by some GORGEOUS weather. Even so, it was a bit of a haul. There were no adjoining hotels, so if you had any swag, you had to drag it back to wherever it was you were staying. Many of my fellow Hilton-ites racked up credit card debt taking cabs or Uber/Lyft to get to and from the pier, and those of us who preferred to be on foot got our steps in…at the price of our backs, in some cases. As much as it was a pretty expanse, its lack of general convenience is an area for improvement next year.

Confusing messaging meant expectations weren’t always met. In general, the Blogger Bash team was communicative about how the events would go. One area that seemed to generate some controversy and confusion is the swag box that was supposedly due to all attendees. Mention was made of it several times on the event’s closed Facebook group, including a thread where organizers reminded attendees to confirm their address from initial registration (so the box could be sent to the appropriate place after the event). Not long before the event (mere days, if I recall correctly), additional details were added to Sweet Suite–noting that attendees needed to stay until 6:30pm and check out at a table near the exit to confirm their address, or else they would get no swag box. First off, this was counter to the messages that had been provided previously. Second, if we had already confirmed our addresses (as requested), this should have been unnecessary. Third, since Sweet Suite opened at 4:00pm for regular attendees (and 3:00pm for those who purchased VIP access), that meant any event juggling would be severely curtailed. It’s totally understandable that sponsors and Suite exhibitors would want to get as much time as possible with attendees, but quality is far better than quantity. Also, the check-out table wasn’t evident to me as I left, and I missed it. (But they were nice enough to confirm my address post-event, after I asked politely and explained the situation.)

If you’re not into toys, this probably isn’t the gig for you. While there was a small smattering of other types of companies at the petite Expo held on the second (and final) day of the conference, most of the companies that exhibited at or sponsored events for Blogger Bash were about kid-related items–most typically some form of toys or games. These companies also aren’t necessarily looking for reviews: several just want coverage/PR. For me, this meant that I could talk to everyone but truly connect with only a handful of the companies. There were a couple of speaker events that weren’t strictly kid-focused, such as a session on search engine optimization, but I didn’t really learn anything new from that presentation. Either expanding the offering or tightening up the marketing to clarify that this is really more about toy/game bloggers and/or providing a more advanced content track would help for the third edition of the conference.

 

Snoopy and me

My new bff – and you better believe I got a hug

 

Verdict

I’m glad I went and yet I’m not sure if I’ll go back next year. I can really only go to one conference a year–or one CITY a year–for blogging events, and I’ll have to see what the calendar looks like for next year’s event. If I don’t attend next year, it’s not a snub of them. I think the Blogger Bash team puts on a good show. It’s more about what fits my needs best, and that’s why you try things out. It was an enjoyable time, and I would certainly consider it again in the future as my schedule permits.