MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT

July 25, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. Welcome back Ethan Hunt, and the other members of IMF. This is the 6th film in the franchise born (not Bourne) from the classic TV series (1966-73) created by Bruce Geller (credited in each film). Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie returns for this companion piece to his 2015 MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE ROGUE NATION, as of course does mega-star Tom Cruise as the aforementioned Ethan Hunt.

Hunt’s team of Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) returns, as does really really bad guy Solomon Lane (a glowering Sean Hayes), and MI6 agent Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson). New to the scene is Agent August Walker (Henry Cavill, MAN OF STEEL), a hulking hunk of a man who doesn’t share Ethan’s belief in brainy strategy. Speaking of strategy, I was a bit tricky in inviting a friend to the screening who is in the midst of a years long boycott of Alec Baldwin movies. Although I felt a fleeting twinge of guilt, I believe the payoff was such that it lessened the impact of deception. Also appearing are Angela Bassett as a CIA toughie, Michelle Monaghan, Wes Bentley, and Vanessa Kirby (“The Crown”) as White Widow.

Most fans of this franchise have likely accepted that the stories are overly intricate – this one is unnecessarily jumbled – and they just enjoy the clamorous ride to an ending that typically has something to do with a bomb and saving the world. It’s the action and stunts that drive ticket sales, and this one has the most extreme and over-the-top action sequences we’ve seen yet. Even though there is a familiarity to some, the stunts are still quite impressive; and yes, Mr. Cruise, now in his mid-50’s, still performs his own stunts. This includes the leap between buildings where he actually suffered a broken ankle, shutting down production for a few months. The jump where he was injured is included in the film. And fear not, the Cruise Sprint is in full force on numerous occasions. Sadly, there is also a quick shot of a Ving Rhames jog – nothing but painful to watch.

The film opens with a wedding day nightmare, but quickly moves to what the fans want – globetrotting, chase scenes, slick advanced technology and wacky stunts. The streets, bridges and landmarks of Paris are on full and spectacular display, while the chase scenes occur on foot, on motorcycle, in cars, and in helicopters. Crazy stunts include HALO jumping, rock climbing and dangling from an elevator shaft. There is a relentless brawl scene in a men’s room where Hunt gets face planted into a porcelain sink and thrown through a wall … and thanks to the magic of Hollywood, five minutes later, he has nary a scratch and looks as debonair as James Bond ever has. However, it’s the final helicopter sequence through the mountains and cliffs of Kashmir that provide the signature moments of the film. Even with the nod to JURASSIC PARK, it’s a breathtaking scene.

Running nearly 2 ½ hours, this is the longest of the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE films, and Ethan Hunt remains, along with Maverick in TOP GUN (sequel filming now), the best fit for Tom Cruise the actor and celebrity. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for Henry Cavill. He’s blessed with extraordinary genes – just not the thespian types. Filled with double and triple and quad crossings, whether you can follow the story or not, only the most stoic would claim you will find this anything less than an adrenaline rush … should you decide to accept. Plus, it still features one of the best theme songs ever – especially powerful with today’s phenomenal theatre sound systems. Thanks Lalo Schifrin.

watch the trailer:

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MACHINE GUN PREACHER

October 7, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Movies based on true stories and real people tend to receive the benefit of the doubt from me, even when they exaggerate those truths and characters. At the beginning of the movie, Sam Childers is an ex-con, druggie, gun-loving drug dealer, thug, lousy dad, worse husband, and overall man of failed character. When he finds God, he loses the drugs but the only other thing that really changes is his postal address.  All of that is based on the real life Childers.

 Sam Childers sees himself as a modern day crusader working to make a better life for the war orphans in Sudan. It’s impossible to argue that he hasn’t had an impact on lives. The real question is, at what cost and by what methods? Over the closing credits, we even get a clip of the real Sam asking us “does it matter how?”.

You will find no debate here for whether or not this man has made a difference or whether his methods should be judged. This space is merely for analyzing the movie which is telling a story. Gerard Butler does an admirable job making Sam a somewhat sympathetic character. Re-read my first paragraph if you think that’s easy! Michelle Monaghan plays Lynn, his incredibly supportive wife who actually helped Sam find God, rather than continue his criminal, drug-addled ways with friend Donnie (Michael Shannon).

 While I found the story of the Sudanese children to be heart-breaking, the choppy and fragmented manner in which it’s presented was quite annoying. The story began in 1998 but we never really knew what year it was or how much time had passed between Sam’s trips home. Many of the gun battle scenes came across very staged and set-up for a cool shot of Butler brandishing a weapon and bandanna.  The photo at left is Gerald Butler discussing a scene with Sam Childers.

The production value of the film is surprising considering it’s directed by Marc Foster, who has many fine films to his credit (Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland).  While watching, I had the feeling that there must have been some omitted scenes, and others were edited to the point of being nearly incoherent. 

So while I found the story to be quite interesting, I found the delivery to be less than adequate. This despite fine performances from Butler, Monaghan, Shannon, Kathy Baker and Madeline Carroll. There are numerous magazine articles about Sam Childers and I believe you will find those more accurate and informative.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are up for an interesting story about a fascinating real life man, and you can overlook the shoddy presentation OR you just want to see Gerald Butler looking cool with a machine gun!

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you would rather read an article about the real life Sam Childers than watch chopped up version of his story.

watch the trailer:


SOURCE CODE

April 3, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie) was the writer/director for a terrific 2009 film called Moon (highly recommended). Here he stays in the sci-fi realm with a thrilling and brainy script from Ben Ripley. The best, most accessible sci-fi films not only don’t require the viewer to hold a Ph.d, but they also don’t talk down to us. This is a fast-moving script with a smart (though a bit preposterous) premise, and plenty of reality to keep us glued to the screen … and hanging on every word spoken.

It’s impossible to write much about the film and not give away some of the stuff that makes it fun, so my comments will be brief. Trying to figure out what’s happening, how it’s happening, and whether they can stop it from happening again … well, that’s just about all a movie lover can hope for! So I won’t give away any more than what the trailer sets up.

 Jake Gyllenhaal is Colter Stevens and he is involved in a remarkable project that allows “time travel” to a parallel universe so that a military contractor can discover the terrorist who bombed a train. The first time he wakes up on the train across from Christina (Michelle Monaghan) he has no idea who she is or where he is. 8 minutes later he is face to face with Captain Goodwin’s face (Vera Farmiga) on a monitor with her voice telling him to calm down. Her boss (Jeffrey Wright) is some type of ambitious genius trying to make a name and a buck for himself.

 The story evolves by Gyllenhaal being sent back and forth between “then and now” on numerous occasions with the mission of uncovering the identity of the train bomber. Of course, Gyllenhaal is a good soldier and wants to go above and beyond the call of duty. With some of the elements of Groundhog Day, the film then spins off and gets tricky and brilliant.

 Director Jones works wonders with the camera and we are treated to some fascinating images – both large (Chicago) and small (Gyllenhaal in a train restroom). Great stuff here. That’s about all I will say on this one. It should be obvious how much I like it. Also, a fun note … the phone voice of Gyllenhall’s father is that of Scott Bakula, who is known for his role in the TV series “Quantum Leap“, also a time travel premise.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you have one of those minds that is always asking “What if it were possible to …”

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer your movies grounded in reality and have no use for any of that stinking hypothetical bunk.


SOMEWHERE

January 13, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. My reaction to this film is that no way it gets made and no way anyone would care … unless Sophia Coppola was involved. With her involvement, our approach as a viewer is totally different. She has lived this life and, more importantly, observed this life since she was an infant. She captures details and minutiae that no other writer or director would even sense.

Stephen Dorff plays Johnny Marco, a very successful movie star who is holed up at the infamous Château Marmont. This is the Hollywood retreat where celebs go to disappear for awhile. Marco has gone a step beyond retreat. He is lost.  Lost as a person. Even his daughter Cleo, played by Elle Fanning, can’t “find” him. He dutifully fulfills his movie star responsibilities: press junkets, photography sessions, awards ceremonies, etc. He plays video games with his daughter with the same emotion that he poses for pictures or answers questions from reporters. He is a shell of a man and he is beginning to see that himself.

The film displays all the trappings of stardom and shows that no stream of Ferrari’s, strippers, fans, supermodels, international trips or pile of money can bring personal fulfillment. The man that has everything can still have nothing. Sound a bit depressing? Well it is. But it’s also a nice little peek behind the celebrity curtain.  The film could even be a fun parlor game with all the relatives of famous people who play some minor role … another tip of the cap to Ms. Coppola’s background.

 A ride in the elevator with Benecio del Toro (presumably a Marmont guest) is no more substantive than a party in his room filled with beautiful people who just want to be seen … or do what some people do with celebrities. Isolation can happen in plain site and Ms. Coppola has proven herself to be quite the expert with this film and her even better film, Lost in Translation.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you would like a peek behind the curtain of celebrity and the Chateau Marmont

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: slow moving films put you to sleep … don’t pay $10 for a nap!


DUE DATE (2010)

November 7, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Director Todd Phillips has become comedy director du jour thanks first to Old School and the more recent mega-blockbuster The Hangover. This film is not quite at the level of the two prior films, but it certainly holds it own in today’s multiplex. In other words, it has some laughs … even a few laugh outloud moments. Especially if you have somehow managed to avoid the trailers.

The best way I can describe this one is as an updated Planes, Trains and Automobiles, only with Todd Phillips humor, rather than John Hughes humanity. That being said, Mr. Phillips does work hard at minimizing the gross-out factor and does try to instill some true character development with Robert Downey, Jr and Zach Galifianakis. The element of fatherhood, both loss of and becoming one, plays a role as these two polar opposites bang heads for 3 days.

Ethan (Zach G) is an actor-wannabe, motivated by the sitcom “Two and a Half Men”. He is an excessively annoying individual who displays only the rarest moments of rationale behavior. Downey, Jr is reunited with his Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang (a former DF Best of the Year) co-star Michelle Monaghan as an uptight architect (Peter) and his soon to deliver first child wife (Sarah). They get little screen time together, but the relationship plays a role. Circumstances cause Ethan and Peter into a rental car and cross country race to get Peter home before Sarah delivers.

The road trip includes a Western Union run-in with Danny McBride, a pit stop for glaucoma “meds” with Juliette Lewis and a quick ride from Jamie Foxx, after Ethan falls asleep at the wheel and they fly off a highway ramp. Just when things seem better, Ethan partakes in some of the medication, takes a wrong turn and the two find themselves at the Mexico border, glassy eyes and all. This all occurs while Ethan and his dog work to befriend Peter, while transporting not only the “meds”, but also Ethan’s deceased father’s ashes … in a coffee can.

Many of the gags are predictable, but some are quite funny. It doesn’t have near the gross-out element of The Hangover, except for Ethan’s pre-bedtime ritual and his matching dog. Would have liked a few more segments with cameos – maybe the other guys from The Hangover, because the attempt at making these guys appreciate each other falls a bit short. The soundtrack includes Neil Young, Cowboy Junkies, Cream and Pink Floyd, so there is usually a nice background tune playing. Additionally, RDJ and Zach G prove once again that they are forces of physical comedy when provided decent material.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you recognize the shooting star known as Zach Galifianakis OR road trip humor is your cup of coffee

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: a masturbating dog is an automatic scene-killer for you OR you believe no one can match Steve Martin and John Candy