REVIEW: ‚ÄúMission: Impossible – Fallout‚ÄĚ

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What started as a successful but slightly schizophrenic pet project has evolved into one of my very favorite movie franchises. Aside from the common thread of their high-profile star, the first three “Mission Impossible” installments couldn’t feel more different.¬†It was mainly due to having three¬†very different directors, each with their own unique stamp. While I enjoyed each of them to varying degrees, it was still tough to put a finger on what the series wanted to be.

That started to change with “Ghost Protocol” from director #4 Brad Bird. It put pieces in place and set the table for director #5 Christopher McQuarrie and what would be the best “MI” movie to date.¬†“Rogue Nation” not only felt connected to its predecessor beyond Tom Cruise’s presence, but it was incredibly well made and left audiences with a much clearer vision of what the franchise is shooting for.

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Fans of “Rogue Nation” rejoice. Christopher McQuarrie breaks the¬†revolving director trend and returns for “Fallout”, a movie that ups the ante in terms of breathtaking action yet still tells a thrilling story that well serves its fabulous band of characters.

McQuarrie has been working towards “Fallout”, building¬†its framework for several films now. He did uncredited rewrites for “Ghost Protocol”, co-wrote “Rogue Nation”, and handles the entire script for “Fallout”. This is his baby and he knocks it out of the park. Of course Cruise returns along with mainstays Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg. Also¬†back is Rebecca Ferguson who debuted and stole the show in “Rogue Nation”.

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In a prologue 56-year-old (but far from looking it) Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is informed that three plutonium cores have been stolen by a terrorist group calling themselves The Apostles. They are an offshoot of the Syndicate (see “Rogue Nation”) ran by a mystery man named John Lark. Ethan calls in his IMF cohorts, the neurotic Benji (Pegg) and easy-going Luther (Rhames), to help regain the cores, but the mission goes awry and the plutonium heads to the black market.

Ethan is able to track the plutonium to Paris where a transaction is set to take place near the Grand Palais. Before he can head that way freshly christened CIA Director Sloane (Angela Bassett) orders him to take along Agent Walker (Henry Cavill), a CIA ‘observer’ and Sloane’s own personal “hammer”. Basically he’s¬†sent to make sure the mission succeeds whatever the cost. As Cavill says in his wriest and driest voice “That’s the job.”

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If you follow the series you know the story can’t possible stay in one location. In addition to Paris we make stops in Belfast, London, even Kashmir (played by Norway). Along the way we get a white-knuckled motorcycle chase around the Arc de Triomphe, a foot race across London rooftops (which actually resulted in Cruise breaking his ankle), a mind-blowing helicopter duel through the snow-capped mountains of Kashmir, just to name a few. The action sequences are nothing short of exhilarating, mostly done through traditional stunt work and practical effects. The touches of CGI make a handful of scenes even more breathtaking. And what’s best is McQuarrie shoots them with visual coherence. No indecipherable shaky cams and quick cuts. It’s something to behold.

But “Fallout” is more that credits-to-credits action. McQuarrie threads these sequences together with a classic-style spy story full of twists, double-crosses, intersecting plotlines and of course¬†one big nuclear threat. In the middle of it all is returning¬†“Rogue Nation” baddie Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), an anarchist with a¬†personal axe to grind with the¬†current world order and with Ethan Hunt. His two-headed mantra “The greater the suffering, the greater the peace”¬†is just as much directed at¬†Ethan as to the world system. Adding another kink¬†is the resurfacing of Ilsa Faust (Ferguson), once out of the game but now back in and with her own mysterious agenda.

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McQuarrie moves us through his wonderfully knotty plot at a crackling pace, tossing us¬†enough twists and turns to ensure¬†there is no¬†downtime¬†for¬†measuring if every piece lines up perfectly. But it’s smart enough to keep us locked in and constantly guessing. And Cruise remains the heart of the franchise. His¬†insane physicality and¬†daredevil willingness to risk life and limb for every shot has never been more evident. But it’s the¬†character-centric moments that speak volumes. He’s still a vulnerable hero, even a bit na√Įve. And more than any other “M:I” installment, “Fallout”¬†centralizes his unshakable moral code as key component of not just this film but the entire series.

“Mission: Impossible” continues to be¬†the rare film franchise that actually gets better with age. “Fallout” makes no attempt to reinvent the wheel. Instead it takes the best elements of its predecessors and then cranks the dial past 10.¬†Cruise and company’s¬†ability to consistently up¬†their game has culminated in this action movie masterclass that earns every ounce of acclaim it’s getting. Knowing their history I’m definitely onboard for more. But¬†if the next movie’s mission, should they choose to accept it, is to top “Fallout” it could truly prove to be impossible.

VERDICT – 5 STARS

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5star

REVIEW: “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”

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“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” debuted on NBC during the Fall of 1964. The campy and stylish spy-fi television series ran for only three and a half seasons but it has left a surprisingly lasting impression. That’s funny because during its short run the show struggled with its identity. It was at its peak of popularity when it was trying to be serious, but once the show started incorporating more humor the ratings dropped substantially.

So here we are, 47 years since the original show’s cancellation, and we have a big screen adaptation. The film embraces both the serious and the silliness that marked “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” and its interesting television run. Guy Ritchie helms this wacky m√©lange of action, comedy, spy thriller, and a retro GQ photo shoot. On paper the movie calls for skepticism as it has all the ingredients to be a disaster. Thankfully it’s far from it. Instead Richie gives us a fun and zesty affair that quite exceeds the expectations I had.

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One of my causes for caution was rooted in the film’s two leads. Henry Cavill plays Napoleon Solo – a name so blatantly absurd yet tonally spot-on. He’s an accomplished thief turned reluctant CIA top agent. He’s quite confident and has a penchant for good fashion and even better hair. Then there is Armie Hammer playing KGB agent Illya Kuryakin. He’s a bit of a brute who is a by-the-book operative with a propensity towards fits of anger. Can you see where this is going? Two lone wolves forced to work together and all that stuff? Surprisingly the movie plays with that conceit without going too far.

Brimming with post-World War II and Cold War politics and atmosphere, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” is set in 1963 where our two good-looking stars meet while trying to nab at target for their respective countries. That target is Gaby Teller (played with sauce and spunk by Alicia Vikander). She’s the daughter of a nuclear scientist believed to be working on a nuclear bomb for a wealthy couple who also happen to be Nazi sympathizers. Solo and Kuryakin are ordered to join forces along with Gaby to foil the nefarious plot despite their differences.

There are several things the film could have done to derail itself. First there is the humor. “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” doesn’t make the critical mistake of taking itself too seriously. At the same time it doesn’t bombard the audience with dopey, annoying gags and slapstick. Instead the movie relies on a very calculated dry wit. In many ways the characters are the gags with their ultra-serious personalities and corny bravado. We really see this in the film’s bromance innuendo that Solo and Kuryakin are completely impervious to.

Then there is the action. We certainly get a handful of snazzy action set pieces, but those expecting to see normal action-packed summer movie fare may leave disappointed. Ritchie doesn’t drown his movie in endless shootouts, fistfights, or car chases. He uses action but even it is presented with pinches of style and humor. There are a couple of action twists that feel a bit out of place but ultimately it is done well and in the right amounts.

But the film’s strongest point may be the fabulous recapturing of its 196os setting. Guy Ritchie, cinematographer John Mathieson, costume designer Joanna Johnston, and composer Daniel Pemberton all contribute to the film’s stylish and energetic sense of time. Everything including the fashion, the decor, the technology. The period flavored music which hearkens back to so many different 60’s era sounds. The film is very aware of its style and it could be said that Ritchie wallows in it, but certainly not to the point of making it any less impressive.

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Back to Cavill and Hammer. Some have criticized their performances and the lack of chemistry between the two stars. I actually enjoyed them particularly Cavill and his suave, cheesy overconfidence that is clearly spoofing early Bond. There are moments where Cavill seems to be posing more than acting and Hammer feels as stiff as a board on occasions. But as for their chemistry, it’s a bit hard to judge since they are playing two characters who actually have no chemistry. That’s kind of the point. Overall I think they pull it off. And then you have Vikander who is a lot of fun playing the roles the men visualize for her while being smarter than any off them think. I also really liked Elizabeth Debicki giving a playfully exaggerated performance as one of the film’s villains.

So what to make of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.? There is a smugness to the whole proceeding that sometimes shows itself in the self-indulgent style and in Ritchie’s infatuation with how good his actors look. But there is also an undeniable allure. I loved the realization of the setting, the controlled but effective humor, and the well utilized smattering of action. Most importantly I had a lot of fun, something we don’t always get to say with these types of projects. Sadly the film’s unique flair hasn’t drawn big crowds at theaters, but I found it to be a welcome retreat that may not be flawless but is certainly entertaining.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

4 Stars

Random Thoughts on the “Batman vs Superman” Comic-Con Trailer

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San Diego Comic-Con has evolved over the years. That can be good or bad depending on how you look at it. What started as a comic book convention has evolved into a full-blown entertainment extravaganza. Movie fans have grown accustomed to a host of new reveals from an assortment of superhero, horror, or sci-fi films. This year one of the big ones was from Warner Brothers and DC Comics. It was a new trailer for “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice”.

The sheer scope of this project was enough to excite me beyond measure while also concerning me that WB had bitten off more than it could chew. The first teaser certainly scratched my comic book superhero itch, but it also left tons of questions and worries. Well at Comic-Con we got a bigger, bolder, and more revealing trailer that shot my excitement levels through the atmosphere. So many nuggets of information was shared. It is impossible to process it all with one viewing. Here are a few random thoughts and observations about the new footage we were given:

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  • Finally context is given to the whole Batman vs Superman concept. The trailer unfolds the entire reasons for the impending superhero scuffle and it is pretty compelling. We still need to see how it plays out but it looks promising.
  • I love how this film will address one of the major gripes most people had with the last Superman movie – the seemingly careless disregard for Metropolis or human life in the finale. According to the trailer that subject plays a huge part in the BvS story. We see it early in the trailer through the people’s and government’s anger. We also see it later as a force behind Bruce Wayne’s drive to stop Superman.
  • WONDER WOMAN!!! I have to say Gal Gadot look fabulous and she could truly be a force in this film. The trailer shows her in the middle of an undisclosed fight unleashing a really cool move with her bracers. But we also see her in an evening gown which shows that her role is probably multidimensional. Gadot has me excited and I think Wonder Woman may prove to be a pivotal character among the warring alpha-males.

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  • Lex Luther appears in the trailer and he definitely has some devious plans at work. The trailer shows three key Luther¬†images. First we see him with what appears to be Kryptonite. Second we see that he is in possession of Zod’s dead body. Third we see him talking to Superman from a rather dominant position and Superman doesn’t look too happy. Lex is clearly getting his hands dirty while the two heavyweights are duking it out.
  • Speaking of Lex Luther. We get our first look at Jesse Eisenberg as one of DC’s great villains. I have to say at first I wasn’t convinced with Eisenburg’s casting. Unfortunately his spots in the trailer did nothing to ease my concerns. I’m not sure what Eisenburg is channeling¬†but it doesn’t resemble Lex Luther. From his terrible wig to his weird almost Joker-inspired line delivery. Hopefully better things lie ahead. The Luther character deserves greatness.
  • Jeremy Irons as Alfred. In the first Batman series Alfred was almost strictly a butler. In Nolan’s Batman Alfred was a butler, a sage, and occasionally a little more. In the trailer Irons’ Alfred is still dishing out wise advise but he looks as if he is ready to jump into the action. Not sure how I feel about that. But Irons is a great actor and I’m anxious to see what he brings to the character.
  • DC’s movies have generally been a bit darker than Marvel’s and we definitely see that in the trailer. It is something that may not work for some, but I love how it distinguishes the universe. And this is definitely a story that would call for a darker tone. Hopefully the movie sees it all the way through.

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  • Could we have gotten teasers of a possible Joker appearance? We see Bruce Wayne looking at a newspaper with a message written in red. We also see a suit of armor with another written message along with the familiar “HA HA HA”. Is this the Joker? We know he is set for “Suicide Squad”.¬†How does he fit into this equation?
  • Speaking of that suit of armor, it doesn’t appear to be Batman’s. In fact, after a closer look it just may be Robin’s????
  • Batman in a trenchcoat? There is a brief shot of Batman in his batsuit but also sporting a trenchcoat. It is a very cool look but my bigger question is where is he? The next scene shows him fighting in this dusty ravaged almost otherworldly location. I’m curious.

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  • Speaking of that fight, the soldiers appear in several scenes. They are decked out in all black armor including face shields and helmets. Most intriguing are the Superman crests found on their shoulders. Who are these guys? Where are they from? Better yet, are they human? Why do I ask? In the scene with Batman we see him snapping one of their necks. We know Batman doesn’t kill, right? RIGHT???
  • That final shot! Superman rips off the top of a destroyed batmobile probably expecting to see a hurt and defeated Batman. Instead Batman slowly rises from the wreckage and we get a heart-pumping face-to-face. The absolute perfect way to end the trailer!

Those are just a few random thoughts about this exciting trailer. There are so many other potential nuggets of revelation. Have you seen it? Did you think it was as thrilling as I did? Whether you did or whether you didn’t, I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

REVIEW: “The Cold Light of Day”

Cold Light posterAbout a quarter of the way through “The Cold Light of Day” I was really wondering why everyone had been so hard on the film. I was already preparing for my defense of the movie and the ribbing I would be getting for it. But then things changed. Bruce Willis disappears, Henry Cavill takes center stage, and the bottom falls out. Now I usually don’t like to dwell too long on a movie’s bad points but sometimes you just can’t avoid it. Especially when the entire movie takes a nose dive right before your very eyes. Things definitely go bad here and the movie erases nearly every bit of promise it offers early on.

The idea of the movie is sound enough. Will Shaw (Cavill) arrives in Spain where he plans to spend the week with his vacationing family. We quickly learn that Will doesn’t have the best relationship with his father (Bruce Willis) and the tension between the two is evident. But Will doesn’t make things easy. He sulks and mopes and spends more time on his cell phone checking on his business in San Francisco. This self-centered immaturity pops up throughout the film. I mean even later, when Will is supposed to be ‘a new man’, his character reminds me of a 14-year old with some of the things he does.

The group takes a sailboat off the coast for a day, but Will and his father have a huge argument leading Will to swim into town to get supplies and cool off. When he gets back to the beach to he notices that the boat is gone. He walks the beaches searching until he finds it in a cove. Nobody is on board and it appears there was a struggle. Neither the police or American Embassy are willing to help and Will begins to find out some interesting things about his father. I don’t want to give away any of the few surprises (and I mean very few) this movie has so let’s just say he ends up with a host of people chasing him through Madrid while he tries to find a way to save his family.

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One of the biggest problems with “The Cold Light of Day” is that things get so blasted silly. The film takes so many convenient, out of the blue turns and the characters do some of the most idiotic things. Sigourney Weaver, a talented and accomplished actress, enters the picture and you would think she would be a stabilizing force. Not so! Her character is as cheesy and corny as they come and I often found myself just shaking my head at her flailing attempts at tough guy dialogue. Her character’s angle as well as several other aspects of the story are completely predictable which cuts into any of the suspense the film was hoping for. And any type of plot that happens to catch you by surprise still feels totally contrived.

None of this is helped by Henry Cavill. If I may be unapologetically blunt for a moment, Cavill is absolutely awful here. Now to be fair it doesn’t help that he’s given such boneheaded dialogue. But his performance even sinks below that. Cavill is at his best when he’s sprinting through the streets, jumping over cars, and ducking for cover (and he does a ton of that). But once he’s asked to say a line or show some emotion, well lets just say I’m suddenly a little worried about the upcoming “Man of Steel” movie.

Now this movie features some good camera work and it’s shot in some gorgeous locations. I absolutely loved seeing the sights of Madrid as the movie moves from one part of the city to another. I enjoyed the first third of the film and thought it opened itself up nicely. It also moves at a good crisp pace and at 90 minutes it doesn’t drag things out longer than it should. But the pluses don’t absolve the movie of its clear transgressions and as it moves forward things completely fall apart. I remember when I first saw the trailer for this film. I thought it had a lot of potential. It did. Unfortunately the movie wastes practically all of it.

VERDICT – 2 STARS