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:

Advertisements

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION (2015)

August 16, 2015

MI rogue nation Greetings again from the darkness. It’s been almost 20 years since the beginning of the MI movie franchise, and in that time, Tom Cruise has aged at least 3 months. Perhaps the prank is on us and Mr Cruise actually filmed his scenes for all 5 Mission: Impossible movies in 1995. Of course that didn’t happen, yet somehow each entry of the series manages to get bigger and louder and wilder, so that we may continually marvel at the fountain of youth and physical prowess of the actor seemingly born to play Ethan Hunt.

Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher) becomes the fifth different director to helm a film in the franchise, and he kicks things off with the stunning pre-credit action sequence you have probably already heard about … Cruise tackles an Airbus A400M (aka a huge cargo plane). It’s a short, but incredibly impressive stunt sequence that sets the stage for a movie filled with action, fighting, stunts, comedy, and intrigue – all with minimal CGI.

Alec Baldwin appears as the head of the CIA and the guy trying to permanently shut down the IMF (Impossible Mission Force), while Jeremy Renner does his best to prevent this from happening – without officially confirming or denying any specific action of Ethan Hunt’s team. When Baldwin wins, Cruise goes rogue in an attempt to track down Soloman Lane (played by Sean Harris), the sinister leader of the terrorist group known as The Syndicate (mentioned briefly at the end of the last MI movie).

As spectacular as Cruise is, the real flavor of the movie comes courtesy of Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa – a spy, double spy, or something else. Ilsa is smart and exceedingly well trained, and the perfect partner/adversary for Hunt … depending on the moment. Admittedly, this viewer knew nothing of Ms. Ferguson prior to the film, as her best known work as come on TV’s “The White Queen”. While I couldn’t help but chuckle as Ilsa made her way through Casablanca, it seemed apropos since fellow Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman made cinematic history there some 73 years prior.

Simon Pegg returns and as a bigger role this time alongside Cruise. Pegg plays gadget-dude Benji Dunn, and as you would expect adds a welcome dose of comical dialogue along the way. Joining Cruise as the only actors to appear in all five MI movies is Ving Rhames as Luther. He is given little to do this time, and it’s pretty clear Mr. Rhames has not adhered to the same workout program as Mr Cruise over the years. Alec Baldwin seems to be parodying Alec Baldwin these days, and he has become a real on screen distraction – seriously in need of a change-of-pace role. Sean Harris uses his voice to generate an unusual coldness to his role as villain, and Simon McBurney and Tom Hollander deliver the expected steady turns.

With a nod to Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, there is a wonderful sequence at the Venice Austria Opera House … in the background to Puccini’s Turandot. In addition to the Opera and the opening aviation-based fun, we also have an exhilarating motorcycle chase, some new and tricky high-tech gadgetry, an unusual car chase through the hairpin turns of Morocco, the patented MI “mask” trick, and plenty of fight scenes involving Cruise and Ferguson.  Even if none of that existed, fans like me would still buy a ticket just to hear the theatrical version of one of the most iconic theme songs ever written (by Lalo Schifrin).

If you are a fan of the Mission: Impossible franchise, you will undoubtedly find this to be a welcome and fun addition. And since Cruise has already signed on for another, the most impossible mission may be in determining whether he gets any older prior to its release.

watch the trailer:

 

 

 


EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014)

June 8, 2014

edge Greetings again from the darkness. Director Doug Liman is best known for his fine work at the beginning of the “Bourne” franchise. His latest has so many obstacles to overcome, a tip of the cap is in order for a thriller that isn’t altogether without merit.

These obstacles include such things the all too familiar sub-genre of alien-invasion, an overload of special effects, a familiar actress in an unfamiliar action-hero role, and above all others, the casting of the divisive Tom Cruise … whose detractors will certainly get a kick out of the nearly endless stream of on screen deaths his character experiences. After all, what’s more fun than bashing Cruise over and over and over again? On the plus side, the special effects are very well done; Emily Blunt (despite being the best tanned Brit ever) more than holds her own; and the role allows Tom Cruise to do the two things he does best: incredible stunts and action sequences, and transform from cocky d-bag to dependable, highly competent icon. Without much thought, it’s pretty easy to see the similarities to his characters in Top Gun, Jerry Maguire, A Few Good Men, and The Color of Money … and of course, his recent outing in Oblivion. There is also a convenient excuse for Cruise to lose his battle helmet, an unnecessary segment of him riding his motorcycle, and of course, the patented Cruise sprint is on display.

The movie itself begs for the obvious comparison to Groundhog Day and Source Code, with elements of Aliens, District 9, and The Matrix. Despite all the familiarity, this one kind of works thanks to the screenplay of Christopher McQuarrie (3 other Cruise movies) based on the 2004 novel from Hiroshi Sakurazaka entitled “All You Need is Kill”. Why the Producers chose this generic, daytime soap opera type title over the cool source material title is beyond me.

Cruise especially takes to the first half comedic moments, and that explains why the first half of the movie is much stronger than the second. The phrase “On your feet, Maggot” takes on the the Sonny and Cher role from Groundhog Day, and to great effect. Supporting work from Noah Taylor, Brendan Gleeson, and (a gleeful scene chewing) Bill Paxton add sufficient distraction from the heavy action moments.

So whether you enjoy special effects, intense action scenes, or just watching Tom Cruise get killed time and time again, you will probably find this one entertaining enough … even though not much will stick with you a day later.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: big budget Sci-Fi action movies on the big screen are your thing OR you can find humor in a Tom Cruise character being killed off over and over and over again … purely to advance the plot!

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you consider alien-invasion movies to have reached the saturation point

watch the trailer:

 


OBLIVION (2013)

April 27, 2013

oblivion1 Greetings again from the darkness. Here we have Exhibit Number One in proving the theory that no quantity or quality of movie special effects can overcome the lack a good story. Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy) directs his own graphic novel, and the result is a beautiful and impressive looking film that lacks substance and fails to develop any characters for us to care about.

This almost plays as a sci-fi tribute with tips of the cap to at least the following: The Matrix, Moon, Total Recall, Inception, Planet of the Apes, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2001: A Space Odyssey … and even Top Gun! Unfortunately, it falls short of all of those except for the stunning visual effects of the patrol drones (George Lucas oblivion2would be proud) and the beautiful photography of Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi).

The most obvious comparison is with Wall-E. This time, Tom Cruise plays the “mop-up crew” along with his assigned spouse played by Andrea Riseborough (very good as Wallis Simpson in W.E., and recently seen in Disconnect). We learn from the initial voice-over (by Cruise, not Morgan Freeman) that Earth was left in ruins after a long battle with aliens. Now the last bit of Earth’s resources are being harvested before it is deserted forever.

oblivion3 The cast is pretty deep with an extremely upbeat Melissa Leo showing up in the “Hal” role on a low-res video screen, Morgan Freeman and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as leaders of the underground surviving humans, Olga Kurylenko (a Bond girl in Quantum of Solace, and currently in To The Wonder), and even stunt-woman extraordinare Zoe Bell making an appearance.

All the wonderful toys are present, the look and feel are really something to see, the Jetsons-style home is kinda cool, and we get the ever-present Cruise sprint … this time in a space suit! Despite all the goodies, this one just seems to fall flat in the ability to draw us in. If you are a sci-fi visual type, you’ll get a kick out of it. Otherwise, look elsewhere for an effective team and another day in paradise.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a huge sci-fi fan and enjoy new effects (see the patrol drones)

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you need a good story, no matter how advanced the effects

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGpjlfCfe2Y

 


TOP GUN (1986) revisited

February 13, 2013

top gun1 “I feel the need … the need for SPEED!”  A recent one week run of the re-mastered 3D IMAX version of Top Gun provided the opportunity to re-evaluate the 1986 film that catapulted Tom Cruise to the highest level of movie stardom.  It seems my initial reactions 27 years ago were spot on.  The best parts are still exhilarating and pure joy to watch, while the worst parts are still cringe-inducing and torturous to sit through.

Testosterone overload, hyper-competitiveness, and Type-A personalities were perfectly displayed thanks to the cocky actors that made up the Navy pilot training class: Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Rick Rossovich, Barry Tubb, Tim Robbins and Whip Hubley.  Whether these guys are prepping for flight, ruling the skies, or peacocking afterwards, they are a blast to watch and perfectly capture that familiar pilot-persona. The Navy cooperated with the filmmakers … producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, and director Tony Scott … to ensure the top gun2training was realistic and the flight sequences were breath-taking.  Additionally, some high-powered and experienced Navy pilots were brought in as consultants.

Tom Cruise was considered an up-and-coming actor when cast as “Maverick”. His 1983 film Risky Business brought him much notice … especially for dancing in his tighty-whities … but this is the role that vaulted him into leading man status.  What’s interesting is that many critics pegged Val Kilmer (Iceman) as the future star.  While Mr. Kilmer has had a very impressive career, it certainly doesn’t compare to that of Mr. Cruise.  The female lead went to Kelly McGillis (Charlie), whose star was rising quickly after Reuben, Reuben (1983) and Witness (1985).  Instead of this being her breakout, that label instead went to Meg Ryan (Goose’s wife) who turned a minor role into almost two decades of cute blonde roles in box office favorites.

top gun5 The sequences featuring the fighter jets and pilots in action are some of the best ever captured on film. We never get the feeling that we are being tricked with slick editing or special effects.  On the contrary, it feels like we are in the cockpit and involved in extended dogfights. Another superb element comes courtesy of the two Commanders featured.  James Tolkan plays the cigar chomping Commander of the USS Enterprise, while Tom Skerritt plays Viper, the super pilot and Commander of NAS Miramar’s Fightertown, USA … better known as Top Gun. The real life Viper, Pete Pettigrew, is seen on screen as Charlie’s date Perry in the first bar scene (just after Maverick sings “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”).

Over the years, there has been much analysis, speculation and even spoofs concerning the supposed homo-erotic undertones … especially the infamous volleyball game. At the time, no one would have guessed that the real sexual complexity and confusion would come courtesy of a Kelly McGillis confession twenty years later.

top gun3 The “worst” parts referred to earlier include the post-production add-on scenes filmed to allow for a wider audience (interpretation: to appeal to more women). The love scene between Cruise and McGillis is filmed in the shadows and made even more painful by the blasting of Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away”.  The shadows were necessary due to hair style and color changes of the leads since production had wrapped weeks before. That scene and the elevator scene were added because test audiences were disappointed the sparks between Cruise and McGillis had previously dead-ended. Those scenes combined with the “Miami Vice” feel of many of the non-pilot sequences, and the Kenny Loggins “Danger Zone” agony, provide the Jekyll and Hyde feel that wreaks havoc on the viewer.

top gun4 The changes translated into major profits for the filmmakers as Top Gun became the highest-grossing film of the year. It was nominated for four Academy Awards and won for Best Song (“Take My Breath Away”).  Although composer Harold Faltermeyer was not nominated for his Top Gun score, he was nominated the following year for his song “Shakedown” from Beverly Hills Cop II.  Simpson and Bruckheimer were the Super Producers of the 1980’s with other hits like Flashdance and Beverly Hills Cop.  Mr. Simpson died in 1996 at age 52, and Bruckheimer has gone on to produce Pearl Harbor, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and TV series such as “The Amazing Race” and “CSI: Miami”.  He is consistently rated as one of the most powerful people in Hollywood. Director Tony Scott mastered his domain in the Action-Thriller genre with Crimson Tide, Man on Fire, and Unstoppable. Mr. Scott, who is the brother of director Ridley Scott, died in 2012.

Should you feel “the need for speed”, Top Gun is a great call … except when it’s not.

**NOTE: It’s difficult to imagine anyone but Tom Cruise as Maverick, but the role was first offered to others, reportedly including Michael J Fox and Scott Baio. Oh my.

**NOTE: Rick Rossovich who plays Slider is the brother of Tim Rossovich. Tim was a Pro Bowl Linebacker for Philadelphia Eagles, Tom Selleck’s roommate at USC, and had a nice acting career as a movie and TV tough guy.

**NOTE: The Navy capitalized on the popularity of the film by setting up recruiting tables at the largest theatres where the movie was showing.

watch Tom Cruise (Maverick) put his best move on Kelly McGillis (Charlie):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVNWSEX-WqU

 


JACK REACHER (2012)

December 22, 2012

jack Greetings again from the darkness. Lee Child has written 17 Jack Reacher books since 1997, and it’s a bit surprising that it took Hollywood this long to latch on to this enigmatic lone wolf drifter who doesn’t so much care about laws as he does right and wrong. Fans of the books were outraged when it was announced Tom Cruise would play the 6’5 hulking Reacher, as much of the character’s appeal stems from his ability to physically dominate a situation while using very few words.

Unfortunately I can’t ease the minds of those fans of the pulpy series, but rather to encourage them to give this a shot. Author Child was probably ecstatic when Mr. Cruise took an interest in the character, despite the obvious conflicts. Very few actors can command screen presence like Cruise, especially in action sequences. That’s where this gets a bit jack2dicey. This is not an action movie. It’s an investigative mystery thriller that includes 3-4 action sequences.

The film has a real 1970’s feel to it along the lines of Billy Jack or Walking Tall mixed with Dirty Harry and numerous westerns with strong, silent types, and of course, the timeless pulpy detective stories. See, Reacher is a former military investigator with a mind that is always a step or two ahead of everyone else. He looks at the obvious evidence and immediately notes a list of doubts where none previously existed.  So, he is smarter than you.  He can fight better than you.  And he is travels much lighter than you.

jack4 A seemingly random sniper attack is a bold way to begin a movie given recent real-life events, but the opening sequence is executed with methodical precision and daring so that we can quickly believe in Reacher’s conspiracy theories. In the blink of an eye, Reacher has appeared out of nowhere (his usual address) and is in the middle of the investigation being conducted by the lawyer of the wrongly accused James Barr (Joseph Sikora). The defense lawyer is played by Rosamund Pike, whose character is the daughter of the District Attorney (Richard Jenkins). The police detective is played by David Oyelowo and it’s easy to tell something isn’t completely right within the walls of city hall.

Reacher roams the beautiful city of Pittsburgh asking questions and piecing together the puzzle left behind by creepy villain The Zec (Werner Herzog) and his henchman Charlie (Jai Courtney). We get three Reacher fistfights, a Bullit type car chase in a muscle-bound 1970 Chevelle, and some military sharp-shooting from the depths of a quarry. What we don’t get is the Hollywood jack5tradition of a Cruise sprint. Not once do we see his trademark all-out dash to or from something. In fact, his attempt at moving like a larger man often reminded me of his Stacee Jaxx strut from the recent musical Rock of Ages.

Director Christopher McQuarrie won an Oscar, and my ever-lasting respect, for his The Usual Suspects screenplay. This story is infinitely less-complicated, but it does offer some fun moments thanks to the Reacher character. Maybe things would be a little better if a guy like Reacher really existed … totally off the grid and taking down the bad guys that the cops can’t quite catch. Sounds a bit like “Dexter”, only Reacher’s code includes doling out physical pain and then moving on to the next town … with a new set of Goodwill duds and a fresh toothbrush.

Caleb Deschanel (Director of Photography) provides a really sharp look to the film and, thankfully, doesn’t cheat on the action scenes. Herzog (a highly respected director) has a great look for a bad guy, but is painfully under-utilized here. Rosamund Pike jack3may simply be my least favorite actress working today. Bug eyes and long legs do not an actress make.  Even Reacher had little “interest” in her. Robert DuVall makes a colorful appearance as the late-arriving character that breaks open the case, and he seems to relish the reunion with his Days of Thunder co-star. The most interesting character and actor to me was Jai Courtney (pictured, left), who will be seen next as Bruce Willis’ son in A Good Day to Die Hard.

If you haven’t read the Lee Child books, you will probably readily accept Cruise as Reacher. If you are a fan of the franchise, your eyes and brain will have massive conflicts for the first hour, but then acceptance creeps in, and you’ll probably agree that it’s a simple, effective piece of entertainment … far superior to most Nicolas Cage movies these days!

**NOTE: don’t miss Lee Child as the policeman who releasaes Reacher’s personal items back to him.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of investigative thrillers that are sprinkled with actions scenes and car chases OR you just want to see and hear a very cool ’70 Chevelle

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are such a devoted fan of Lee Child’s books that you refuse to accept the 5″7 Tom Cruise as the 6’5 Jack Reacher OR like me, you hope the kidnappers had struck much earlier on Rosamund Pike’s character.

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kK7y8Ou0VvM


ROCK OF AGES (2012)

June 17, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. A few upfront disclosures are in order: I spent quite a few evenings on the Sunset Strip during the era of this story; I had no idea who Diego Boneta was and only vague name recognition of Julianne Hough when I walked in; and I never saw the hit Broadway production. These points may help explain my reaction to the movie.

The opening sequence immediately informs us that we are in for something different. Aspiring singer Sherrie Christian (Ms. Hough) is running from her backwoods Oklahoma life to the bright lights of fame offered by Hollywood. While on the bus, we get the first of an endless stream of staged karaoke routines … “Sister Christian” (get it??). Once on Sunset Boulevard, she is quickly mugged and then comforted by Drew (Mr. Boneta), an aspiring singer and current barhop at The Bourbon, an obvious nod to such hallowed rock ground as Whisky A Go Go and Roxy.

 No need to spend much time discussing plot. There is a muddled love story filled with teenager dreams and miscommunication, and a financial crisis at The Bourbon, thanks to back taxes owed by manager Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin), and a political backlash against the club thanks to the Mayor’s wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who has a not so secret desire for revenge. The only way to save the club is for rock idol Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) to play a gig. The only way to save the love story is to write it out of the film all together. The political agenda is simply an excuse to add two more excruciating karaoke numbers.

 What little fun there is in the movie is thanks to Cruise, Baldwin and Russell Brand, who plays Baldin’s sidekick and confidant. Cruise jumps into the Jaxx role with both feet and seems to understand that a parody should be fun. Being a rock idol isn’t far removed from being the biggest movie star on the planet, so Cruise blends Axl Rose and Bret Michaels to create Jaxx … throw in a pet baboon, two He-men bodyguards, an endless train of groupies, and a dragon codpiece … and you get Stacee Jaxx, legendary rock star and savior to The Bourbon.

 If one is going to make a rock ‘n roll movie, it either needs to be played straight (Almost Famous) or as a head-on parody (This is Spinal Tap). What it can’t do is celebrate the dead zone of lameness: lame music covered by lame singers playing lame characters. No amount of star power actors can overcome material that doesn’t capture the power and passion of the music. And we aren’t even talking real rock n roll here … this is glam rock, stadium rock, big hair bands. Yet, the movie still falls incredibly short of making a statement or providing insight or even entertainment. This one has quite a bit in common with Burlesque (except Christina Aguilera is a terrific singer).

 Cruise’s performance generates some laughs, as do Baldwin and Brand. However, Hough and Boneta aren’t even cringe-worthy. They have zero screen presence and neither belong in a rock movie. The sub-standard singing becomes quite apparent when Mary J Blige belts out her first song.  That is a real voice on a real singer. Maybe the real problem is that most of the songs in the movie have survived these 25 years despite mediocrity … they can easily be sung while intoxicated. Evidently that’s not enough for a decent movie.  I have long been a fan of movie musicals. The ones that work feature good singers with acting ability singing good songs in a way that advances the story.  Rock of Ages misses on all of those points.

note: check for cameos by Eli Roth, Sebastian Bach, Debbie Gibson, Kevin Cronin, and a Lita Ford poster

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: your musical tastes lean towards late 80’s rock OR you want to see Tom Cruise mega-movie star evolve into Stacee Jaxx mega-rock star

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you relate a night at the karoke bar to a dentist appointment

watch the trailer: