Mission: Impossible – Fallout

The latest installment of the little movie series that could is good, though not as great as the last one. (Rogue Nation was something special.)

In this one, Ethan (Tom Cruise) has to stop someone from blowing up some nuclear bombs at a water source that impacts over a billion people. So, that’s pretty dramatic. He’s got Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg) in his crew, and before too long, Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) shows up. The new, and unwelcome, addition to the team is August Walker (Henry Cavill), a CIA operative there to make sure things don’t go sideways. I kind of enjoyed Walker’s blase attitude toward violence, and his eye-rolling reactions to some of the IMF’s most treasured toys, like their impersonation masks.

There’s all the action you would expect, with car, motorcycle and helicopter chases. And, of course, Ethan running. You got to have some Ethan running scenes. The big stunt in this one was Ethan jumping out of a plane at 20,000 feet. Which Tom Cruise really did. It’s impressive in theory, but doesn’t carry the same visual impact of him hanging onto the side of a plane in flight. (Another reason Rogue Nation was special.)

Also, and this is a nitpick, the HALO drop was filmed at sunset, but the story has the characters making the jump at 11:30 pm to interrupt a midnight rendezvous. That bugged me.

So, this is a good film, but certainly not the best of the series.

I’m going to dip into spoilers for this next bit, so be warned.

The other thing I found interesting about Fallout was how it felt like a Greatest Hits compilation. Let’s run it down:

Mission: Impossible — Ethan impersonates someone to get a meeting with an arms dealer (who is played by an actress named Vanessa) and he has a weird May-December flirtation with her. (Fun fact. Tom Cruise is just as much older than Vanessa Kirby as he is younger than Vanessa Redgrave.)

Mission: Impossible II — The bad guy is an agent who Ethan dislikes because he’s more interested in killing than he is in spying.

Mission: Impossible III — Julia (Michelle Monaghan) is in danger in the third act. Also, one of the bad guys is impersonated by a good guy.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol — After Ethan claims he’s not the bad guy, the IMF Secretary believes him, and then is quickly killed. Also, the bad guy wants to set off nukes to bring about peace. Somehow.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation — The head of the CIA starts the film thinking that Ethan Hunt is a reckless fool, but is turned around by the end. Also, Ethan has a battle of wits with Ilsa because she won’t reveal her mission to him – until the second act, anyway.

Did I miss any?

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Mummy v. Mummy

I just saw the Tom Cruise starring The Mummy, the critically panned and financially disappointing tent-pole film from this past summer. I could dig into the way it tries (and pretty much fails) to set up a cinematic “Dark Universe” for the traditional monster properties that Universal is known for. It seems that kind of thing is elusive for anyone but Disney.

What I’m more interested in is how the film functions as a film, and why it’s so underwhelming compared to the much campier and much more beloved The Mummy starring Brendan Fraser from 1999.

The Setting

M99 was set entirely in Egypt, and back in the 1920s. Part of that was, I’m sure, an attempt to catch some of the glow of the Indiana Jones films, which were of course an inspiration. It also put moviegoers in the mindset of this as being an homage to the classic monster pictures from the 30s. It gave the filmmakers license to have arch dialog, stylized action sequences, one-dimensional characters and a few old-school camera tricks. At the time, the film was decried as an example of Hollywood soullessness, but it was exactly what a summer blockbuster should be–fun.

M17, on the other hand, eschews Egypt almost entirely and moves the action to the present day. There’s an (overlong) introductory history lesson, but then it moves to Iraq (an excuse to add some of-the-moment fire fights and a drone strike), and from there to London (an excuse to shoehorn in Dr. Jekyll). Everything seems off point. This could have been enjoyable, if the film had any kind of a sense of fun with the time/place displacement for the action. But it doesn’t. Instead of a face in a cloud of sand, there’s a face in a cloud of shattered glass. Snore.

The Hero

Brendan Fraser was known before M99, but he was far from a household name. This film put him on the map (for a brief time). He was charismatic, roguish, insistent on his own intelligence, which was more often than not effective. Tom Cruise has charisma for days, but his character in M17 is all over the map. He’s kind of a doofus (which I don’t have a problem with) but there needs to be a point in the film where he stops reacting and starts acting. This moment is saved for very nearly the last moment, and it’s overdue.

The Heroine

Both films have a “strong” female character who is more knowledgeable and more considered than their male counterpart. I put strong in quotes because neither Rachel Weisz in M99 nor Annabelle Wallis in M17 have any real impact on the story beyond providing occasional information and then getting saved by the hero. But at least in M99 there’s some real chemistry between the leads. The “romance” between Cruise and Wallis is laughable, for more reasons than just the fact that he’s 22 years older than she is.

The Villain

I can’t really say that Sofia Boutella is better or worse than Arnold Vosloo. Both of them run around in skimpy clothes and kill a bunch of people in a bid to sacrifice someone to bring someone else to life. Vosloo gets points for never speaking English. The endless dream sequences between Cruise and Boutella had me flashing back to Dawn of Justice, and that’s not a good thing.

The Sidekick

In M99, there are two sidekicks: John Hannah as Johnathan and Kevin J. O’Connor as Beni. Both are greedy and underhanded, but one is just a little nicer than the other. And both are pretty funny. In M17 we get a poorly used Jake Johnson who is kind of an amalgam of both, but is way less funny than he should have been. (Honestly, he was the best part of Jurassic World, wasn’t he?)

The Expert

In M99 we get a glimpse into a secret society of people dedicated to protecting the world from evil, personified in Oded Fehr and Erick Avari. They get to be the ones to say to the heroes “You done messed up.” In M17 that role is filled by Russell Crowe as the Nick Fury of this universe, Henry Jekyll. Personally, I loved him. I even loved the weird diversion of Hyde taking over and tossing Tom Cruise around the room for a while. This is the one place I think this version of the film wins out.

The Tone

This is where M17 falls down in a major way. This is a film about an ancient mummified creature causing havoc in the modern world. It’s not supposed to be gritty and dark. They leaned really heavily into the horror aspects. That made for some great imagery. (I loved the version of Ahmanet hobbling around the church early on.) But trying to splice that into a big action movie (with plane crashes and gun play) left the film an unmanageable mess. M99 knew what it was about–fun. There’s a very similar scene in both films, where a character is about to be sacrificed on an altar surrounded by mummies. This leads to a big fight sequence. The M17 version is probably more technically proficient, but it’s not fun. That sequence in M99 is rousing and leaves you happy to have spent your hard-earned money on a movie ticket.

My Conclusion

M17 isn’t a terrible film. It’s just amazingly lackluster. I don’t think it’s going to be remember unfondly. I think it’s going to be forgotten. I don’t know if that’s better or worse than having a Battlefield Earth level disaster, but it’s disappointing nonetheless.

Edge of Tomorrow

When I heard that this film was based on a Japanese novel, I sought it out before I saw the film. It’s a dark tale about a young, aimless Japanese recruit who’s on a newbie on the front lines in a fight for survival against an unstoppable alien force. And, when he kills the wrong alien (quite by accident), he rewinds to the previous day, and has to fight again. And again. It’s basically Groundhog Day with aliens and butt-kicking. (It also has a much better title than this film: All You Need Is Kill.)

eotSince the fight with the aliens is global in scope, it makes as much sense as anything to replace the young Japanese kid with a fifty-year-old white guy, but one with a really nice smile. I wondered how the screenwriter was going to put Tom Cruise on the front line, and they chose a smart way to do it. He plays a relatively high-ranking “soldier”, but his whole role is to play the cheerleading PR guy who gets new recruits into the army. He manages to anger the general in charge of a new invasion so drastically, he gets “demoted” and dumped in with the cannon fodder.

So, right there, they introduce a new dramatic angle that wasn’t in the book, as Cruise spends a fair amount of time trying to convince the people around him that he shouldn’t even be there. And it also generates a situation where anything crazy he says (for example, “I’m repeating every day in a time loop”) just sounds like him trying to get out of battle. A lot of this plays way funnier than you’d expect from a film with this premise.

Cruise comes to the realization that another soldier, played by Emily Blunt, has had the same time-loop thing happen to her in a previous battle. So, she understands what he’s going through… but it’s not happening to her, so he has to reset every day with her as well. Amazingly, for a film with a time travel premise, they don’t really drop the ball on the logistics.

The original book has a somewhat darker ending than the film, which is more Hollywood… but they at least present the ending with a reasonable explanation of how it all works out. I don’t want to spoil either medium, because they’re both worth experiencing.

Tom Cruise was in Edge of Tomorrow with Emily Blunt. Emily Blunt was in…

The Last Samurai

tlsThere’s no shortage of films where a white guy infiltrates a society of others, and he ditches his loyalty to his white guy friends and helps the others. Dances with Wolves springs to mind. Avatar. Even, a little bit, The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (which I will be reviewing later).

In this one, Tom Cruise is a soldier with a troubled past who is hired by the Japanese government to help them modernize. And, in the process, he learns about the traditional Japanese ways, which the government look down on, in their headlong race toward westernization. Cruise finds love (of course), and bonds with a super-traditional Ken Watanabe. He also learns the way of the samurai. You know, honor and death in battle. Klingon worldview, in other words.

There’s nothing particularly special about the film. Watching Cruise be a bad ass with a sword is fun, and the friendship between him and Watanabe is nice, and the cinematography is pretty. But I can’t say I love it.

Billy Connolly was in The Last Samurai with Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise was in…

The Firm

tfForgive me for starting this series of reviews with so many breathless accolades, but here’s another stellar film. And it’s that rare bird, a film adaptation of a book that surpasses the original in quality.

Tom Cruise is Mitch McDeere,  an up-and-coming lawyer who has just graduated from Harvard, and he’s courted in a very genteel manner by the Memphis law firm of Bendini, Lambert & Locke. He and his wife Abby (Jeanne Tripplehorn) move to Memphis and Mitch begins his new job. Eventually he discovers that the firm is really controlled by organized crime, and he is now pressured by the FBI to inform on his colleagues.

The movie is almost beat-for-beat a reenactment of the book. The mentor (Gene Hackman). The fixer (Wilford Brimley). The sleazy brother (David Strathairn). Tension and shenanigans abound. What the film brings to the table that the book missed is Mitch’s love of the law. In the book, Mitch swindles everyone and makes off to the Caribbean with a pile of cash. It felt like a real moral let down, more of a lawyer’s personal fantasy than a really engaging drama. In the movie, Mitch finds a remarkable middle ground, which helps bring the firm to its knees, but without sacrificing his own ethics in the process. That’s some good adapting.

I should also mention the stellar musical score by Dave Grusin, which is entirely performed on piano. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything quite like it, and it manages to capture every mood perfectly.

I haven’t seen this one in a few years, but I can’t imagine it doesn’t hold up well.

So, Jeanne Tripplehorn was in The Firm with David Strathairn. David Strathairn was in…