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‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’ Takes Itself a Little Too Seriously, But it’s Impressive Nonetheless

I think it is often overlooked just how impressive the “Mission: Impossible” film series is. Not just the stunt and action work, but the fact that they have made six films over 22 years without a reboot or recasting and have (mostly) put out consistently good products.

“Mission: Impossible – Fallout” is the sixth installment of the Tom Cruise spy franchise and features Cruise reprising his role as special agent Ethan Hunt. When stolen plutonium goes missing, Hunt and his team (Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg and Rebecca Ferguson) are tasked with tracking it down while being monitored by a CIA agent (Henry Cavill). Sean Harris, Alec Baldwin, Angela Bassett and Vanessa Kirby also star while Christopher McQuarrie writes and directs, becoming the first person to helm multiple films in the franchise.

I actually rather enjoy the “Mission: Impossible” films. While the third film is more remembered for featuring the late-great Philip Seymour Hoffman in a blockbuster film, I liked 2015’s “Rogue Nation” and actually loved 2011’s “Ghost Protocol.” “Fallout” was never high on my radar for 2018’s must-see cinema, mostly because at this point we know what to expect from a film like this in a series like this, but Cruise and McQuarrie are to be commended; they have not taken their foot off the gas one bit.

Say what you want about Tom Cruise and his perceived large ego (especially around the time of the second film of this series in 2000) but it is impossible (aye) to knock this man’s hustle. If you ever watch interviews with him it is clear he has a true passion for cinema and he of course famously does his own stunts, something that cost him while making this film. Midway through production, Cruise broke his leg which halted filming for seven weeks, resulting in an $80 million insurance claim by the studio. Cruise also filmed a dozen halo jumps (skydiving out of an airplane) and flew/nearly crashed his own helicopter, so it is clear “Fallout” is a labor of his 56-year-old love. His stunt work and choreograph moves feel real and all-too-often you sit in awe that anyone is crazy enough to do the things he does, much less a Hollywood movie star.

Trying to hold his own alongside Cruise is Superman himself, Henry Cavill, and he does a pretty admirable job. Queen Angela Bassett (who plays the head of the CIA) has a line in the film that while Cruise’s agency “uses a scalpel, she prefers a hammer” and that title suits Cavill well. Clearly a physical presence, Cavill is able to crack a joke or give a facial expression here or there too that makes you hope he gets more roles that play to his (both literal and figurative) strengths. The film does do something with his character that I think could have been handled better, but at the end of the day it doesn’t bother me as much in hindsight as much as it did in the moment.

As with Cruise’s stunts, the action is all visceral and cleanly shot. The infamous bathroom fight sequence where Cavill reloads his fists (YouTube it if you somehow don’t know to what I refer) is so brutal and perfectly staged that I would almost argue the film tops itself there, but there are plenty of foot chases, motorcycle escapes and helicopter battles left to enjoy, too.

The biggest problem with “Fallout” is what I think plagues all the “Mission: Impossible” films and that is that its opening is so grand and it has so much going on in the first act that it eventually runs out of steam but still has 50 minutes of movie left. This film’s climax has some great shots and moments but the plot is never as do-or-die as the characters make it out to me; for me, at least.

“Mission: Impossible – Fallout” is about as good as “Rogue Nation” but I would argue has better action sequences. All too often we toss out the “leave your brain at the door and you’ll have a good time” line for blockbuster films but I would argue that this is a thinking man’s action film. Not that it has multiple layers or is a complex character study (because it’s not) but the action and stunts here aren’t just mindless Michael Bay explosions; they’re meticulously crafted punches and crashes that earn your enjoyment and respect.

Critic’s Grade: B

Paramount Pictures

Cruise Tries His Best to Save ‘American Made’

american_made_filmTom Cruise did some damage to his reputation this past summer with “The Mummy” so at least this earned him back a little bit of street cred…


“American Made” is the based-on-a-true-story tale of Barry Seal, a commercial airlines pilot who began smuggling guns for the CIA and cocaine for the Medellín Cartel in the 1980s. Cruise stars alongside Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright and Jesse Plemons as Doug Liman directs.


The trailer for this film seemed pretty mundane, to put it nicely. It’s not that it looked bad but given Cruise’s recent slump, partnered with the typically bland September release date and a sense of “been there, done that” I just wasn’t really looking forward to this, even though I do tend to enjoy Cruise and love me a period piece. And “American Made” is essentially exactly what the trailers pitch it as, so how much the trailers gave you pleasure will likely equal your level of enjoyment from this film.


There is a lot going on in this film and a 117 minute runtime isn’t enough to do all the stories justice. Barry Seal lived an incredibly fascinating life and if Liman had just stuck to what Seal knew and saw then perhaps that would have been sufficient enough for the film. However, he crams upwards of 10 years of events and several threads into the runtime and it leads to some lulls and pacing issues, and a lack of identity.


There’s a little bit of “Narcos” with the involvement of Pablo Escobar and the Cartel, a little bit of “Goodfellas” because of the setting and the style the film is shot in and a dash of “Wolf of Wall Street” because a hard-working (good looking and charismatic) underachiever suddenly makes more money than he knows what to do with by illegal means. We’ve been down all these roads before and those roads led to much better mediums than “American Made.”


Tom Cruise’s star may be fading in the United States but he shows here he can still carry a movie. Unlike “The Mummy” Cruise is able to play a cocky jerk (his trademark) and for the most part is why this film works; he gets some good one-liners and seems to be having fun. Unfortunately there really isn’t much arch to his character, as we are introduced to him flying commercial planes then in the very next scene he is recruited by the CIA. We don’t really get too much of a look into his life before the smuggling began, and the struggles or lack of fulfillment in his life that would lead him to take on such a venture.


The aesthetics of the film are all mostly good, with a solid soundtrack and production value that places you in the world of 1980 Columbia and Arkansas, and the cinematography by César Charlone emphasizes use of handheld cameras, which adds to the dizzying and frantic nature of Seal’s story.


There are some things to like about “American Made” but they all feel like smaller parts ripped from better movies (or at least stories that each deserve their own better movie). Still, fans of Cruise should find enough to enjoy here and if you want to get out to the theater but killer clowns and spy sequels aren’t your thing then you can do worse at the movies right now. Unlike Barry Seal, however, just know what you’re getting into before making the call.


Critics Rating: 5/10

‘The Mummy’ Should Have Stayed Under Wraps

The_Mummy_(2017)I don’t think an intended cinematic universe has ever started off with this big of a thud.


“The Mummy” is a reboot of Universal’s titular franchise and the first intended installment of their “Dark Universe,” a collection of their most famous monsters from Frankenstein to the Wolfman. Here, Tom Cruise stars as a treasure hunter who becomes cursed after unearthing the tomb of an Egyptian princess (Sofia Boutella). Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance and Russell Crowe also star as Alex Kurtzman directs.


I don’t think many people were looking forward to this movie. The trailers were as bland as can be and while things like King Kong and Godzilla still sell tickets, the smaller films like “Dracula Untold” and “I, Frankenstein” don’t perform well at the box office. This is supposed to be the start of an epic joined franchise of monsters, with Universal so confident in themselves they’ve already released press photos of all the actors together and put the “Dark Universe” logo before this film. But after seeing how bad this film is, and how I’m sure the box office receipts will follow suit, this may be one series that is as dead as an Egyptian king.


Not much in this film works but I’ll briefly go over the things that do. Russell Crowe is seemingly the only person who knows what sort of movie he is in and he gives his character the right amount of cheese and tongue-in-cheekiness. I won’t say who he is playing because the trailers do not disclose it, but he has one fight scene that is the only time the film is something even resembling fun. Also some of the production design is nice; when things aren’t foggy or sandy the sets pieces are cool to look at.


Ok now onto, well, everything else.


This film has no idea what it wants to be, which is only made obvious by the fact that it has six writers and three editors. Tones constantly jump from serious to attempts at comedy in a matter of seconds, including some jarringly awkward moments from Jake Johnson (of “New Girl” fame). He is so out of place here and his character is so against the grain of what the rest of the film is trying to do that every time he came on screen I was instantly annoyed.


Speaking of comedy, there are a few laughs in this film; some are intentional but most aren’t. For most of the film Tom Cruise seems to be trying to give a charismatic performance and as usual he is to be commended for doing his own stunts, but there are some awful lines of dialogue in this film. By the climax my entire theater had given up caring and silently formed a mutual agreement to begin to laugh at and openly roast what was happening on screen, which was the most enjoyment I had in the (seemingly eternal) 107 minute runtime.


The plot itself doesn’t even make sense, not that you care. The undead princess wants to get a knife to kill Cruise so he can be taken over by an ancient Egyptian god, except when she kisses people they turn into zombie slaves, and suddenly there are some Templar Knights who are also on her side despite dying 3,000 years apart. And also Russell Crowe is a walking exposition machine. It’s a mess, but not one cleaning up.


For most of its duration “The Mummy” is boring, which is the worst thing a film can be, especially a big-budget summer blockbuster. It’ll be interesting to see if Universal does some soul-searching and agenda swapping, since I can’t see enough people liking (or seeing) this to have the desire for more monster movies to be made.


There is a point where the mummy is talking to a girl she is about to kill and she says, “there are some fates worse than death.” Yeah, sitting through this movie.


Critics Rating: 3/10



‘Rogue Nation’ a Mission Worth Accepting

Mission_Impossible_Rogue_Nation_posterMuch like the Fast and Furious films or a fine wine, the Mission: Impossible movies only seem to be getting better as time goes on.

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” is the fifth film of the franchise, which is now 19(!) years old. Tom Cruise returns to possibly his most famous (and certainly his most bankable) role of secret agent Ethan Hunt, who this time around must prove that a secret organization known as the Syndicate is real. Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, and Ving Rhames all reprise their roles from the previous films while Rebecca Ferguson and Alec Baldwin join the cast. Christopher McQuarrie writes and directs.

At this point, you know what you’re getting with a Mission: Impossible film and “Rogue Nation” quite literally follows the checklist from the other films on how to be a summer tentpole action film (well, except “Ghost Protocol,” which was a Christmas tentpole). The film features gorgeous set pieces, well-choreographed action sequences and one of the biggest movie stars of all-time in Tommy Boy, and while the film still suffers from similar narrative flaws of its predecessors, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun time.

I think because we see him so often on screen we take it for granted, but Tom Cruise is in incredibly good shape. It’s not an industry secret that he does his own stunts, like getting hitched to the side of a plane and actually holding onto it as it takes off like he did for this film, but, like, he’s 53 and looks better than most 20-year-olds. Cruise again sells every action scene he is in, and it seems we will continue to see Ethan Hunt fighting terrorists until Cruise is in his 70’s.

Like “Ghost Protocol,” “Rogue Nation” features more scenes in beautiful locations, including Vienna and London. Director McQuarrie and cinematographer Robert Elswit make sure to showcase the cities, but never sacrifice the action for the sake of it like some other filmmakers do. One of the best sequences in the film is a motorcycle chase along a Moroccan highway, and the aforementioned Cruise-on-a-plane stunt, which has been the centerpiece of every commercial and poster for the film, is used as the film’s opening. I appreciated the filmmakers using that as the appetizer, as all too often film’s put their climatic stunts in the trailers, ruining the surprise or build-up to them.

That being said, the biggest positives of “Rogue Nation”, its action sequences, may also play into its biggest flaws. After the impressive plane opening, and then a highly entertaining and well shot action sequence in a Vienna opera house, the film’s stunts and action pieces lose a little bit of flare and energy as each one comes and goes. That’s not to say they’re not impressive or entertaining nonetheless, but the first few set the bar so high that it just wasn’t possible or reasonable to ask the second half of the film to compete.

With the exception of Philip Seymour Hoffman in the third installment, the Mission: Impossible films have never had a strong villain or overly-engaging plot, and here is no exception. Sean Harris comes across as chilling as the main bad guy, but his motivations are not fully explained and he is never as threatening as the movie wants us to think he is.

The first half of “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” is fantastic, and while the second half loses steam and at times drags, it still has its bits of entertainment. The climax of the film was a little underwhelming, but seeing Tom Cruise at his Tom Cruise-iest is always welcome, Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg provide some comedic relief, and the film looks beautiful. It isn’t quite on “Jurassic World’s” level of summer blockbuster entertainment, but “Rogue Nation” subscribes to the notion that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and five films in, this franchise shows little signs of breaking.

Critics Rating: 7/10



‘Edge of Tomorrow’ Return to Form for Cruise

Edge_of_Tomorrow_PosterIf there was any doubt that Tom Cruise could still carry an action film, “Edge of Tomorrow” makes those doubts a thing of the past.

When Earth is invaded by aliens, a military officer (Cruise) finds himself repeating the same day over-and-over again every time he dies. The only person who believes him and knows how to use this as an advantage is a Special Forces solider, played by Emily Blunt. Doug Liman directs.

Tom Cruise is a movie star, and a dedicated one at that (even at age 51 he is still doing his own stunts), but he has been in some very average films the past few years (here’s looking at you, “Oblivion”). However, “Edge of Tomorrow” returns Cruise to his former glory, and does so in a very enjoyable way.

If you mix “Groundhog Day” with “Saving Private Ryan” and “Elysium”, that’s pretty much what you get with “Tomorrow”. At times the plot sags, but it never gets repetitive or boring, which is a high compliment about a movie that is essentially set in the same 24 hour period over-and-over. The film knows how to use the “live-die-repeat” premise to its advantage, and the audience gets a few chuckle moments thrown in every now and again.

As good as Cruise is, Emily Blunt holds her own, too. Walking into the film it may be hard to picture her as the deadliest killer mankind has to offer, however Blunt quickly sells you on the character, and that she isn’t to be messed with. Her and Cruise have solid chemistry, even if at times her hardened exterior may seem a bit unrealistic.

Most of the action is shot well. It is a PG-13 film, so there are obviously some shaky cam moments and some of the kills are a little too close up, but overall it is very solid direction and cinematography.

There really isn’t much “Edge of Tomorrow” does wrong. The ending may be a little cliché or blah for some people, and the alien’s invasion plot does resemble that of Hitler’s (first conquer France, then Europe, then the world), but in a world of remakes and over-the-top action films that are nothing but one-liners and explosions (*cough* Michael Bay), it is nice to watch something that is at least trying to be original.

If you can deal with the “every time the hero repeats the day he learns a little more” storyline, and especially if you enjoy the idea of Tom Cruise running around in a robot suit killing aliens that look like the robots from the Matrix, then “Edge of Tomorrow” is the film for you. If those things don’t appeal to you… then I think there’s some teenage rom-com about stars that is also playing.

Critics Rating: 7/10