Wednesday, January 23, 2019

"MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT" (2018) Review




"MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT" (2018) Review

Ever since I was a kid, I have always been a fan of the "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE" franchise . . . with one exception. I was a fan of the 1966-1973 television series, which I had viewed faithfully as a kid. I saw one episode of the 1989-1990 television sequel, but I failed to become a fan. But my enjoyment of the franchise kick started once more with the release of the 1996 film of the same title and I have never looked back. 

As many know, the 1996 film, which starred Tom Cruise as IMF Agent Ethan Hunt led to five more films. The latest, "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT", was released in theaters during the summer of 2018. Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, this sixth entry in the movie franchise focused on Ethan and his team's hunt for stolen plutonium. The material had been stolen by a group of terrorists called the Apostles, the remnants from terrorist Solomon Lane's organization called the Syndicate, from "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - ROGUE NATION". When Ethan and his team - Luther Stickell and Benji Dunn - failed to get their hands on plutonium early in the film, CIA Director Erica Sloane instructs Special Activities Division operative August Walker to shadow and observe Hunt and the others as they attempt to retrieve the plutonium. Thanks to a nuclear weapons expert they had captured named Nils Delbruuk, the team learns that an extremist named John Lark might be behind the Apostles. And in order to get to Lark and the plutonium, Ethan's team might have to kidnap an imprisoned Solomon Lane and deliver him to London without MI-6 agent Ilsa Faust interfering with their plans.

Many film critics raved over "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT" after it first hit the theaters. In fact, some are regarding it as the best installment in the franchise and one of the greatest action films of all time. Do I agree? I honestly do not know. The movie had a few flaws that makes me hesitate to regard it in this manner. One, it featured the return of Solomon Lane. Seeing him in this film, led me to believe there was one too many villains in this film. I honestly wish that Ethan Hunt had scragged Lane at the end of "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT". And to make matters worse, he was still alive by the end of the film. I also had a problem with Vanessa Kirby's character, an arms dealer named Alanna Mitsopolis aka the White Witch. Apparently, Lark wanted to purchase from her the cores for the plutonium. When Ethan impersonated Lark, she was the one who had demanded that Lane be snatched from a French intelligence convoy that was conveying him to another prison. After this scenario played out, Ms. Mitsopolis had disappeared from the narrative, until it was revealed in the end that she had made a deal with MI-6 to arrange for them to get their hands on Lane. And you know what? This whole scenario involving both Ms. Mitsopolis and Lane seemed a bit convoluted and unnecessary. In fact, I could have done without the presence of either of them. And how on earth did Lane end up in France, when he was arrested in London? Surely as a former MI-6But who knows? Perhaps a re-watch of the film will lead me to change my mind.

However, the above complaints are not signs that I did not enjoy the film. Trust me, I still managed to enjoy "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT". Very much. I agree with many of those critics who praised the film for just about every aspect of it. Yes, I had some squabbles with McQuarrie's plot. But I must admit that I enjoyed other aspects of it. For a minute, I had assumed that once again, Ethan would find himself disavowed by the agency and the C.I.A. Instead, McQuarrie added an interesting element in which the C.I.A. assigned an operative to keep an eye on the activities of Hunt and his team. And the character of August Walker proved to be a breath of fresh air as his arrogant and aggressive persona provided an extra conflict for Hunt to deal with, as they pursue the Syndicate and the missing plutonium. Another addition that spiced up the plot and included a touch of pathos was Ethan's reunion with his ex-wife Julia Meade in Kashmir, where Lane planned to detonate two nuclear weapons and where she and her new husband were representing Doctors Without Borders.

Naturally, I cannot discuss a film like "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT" without pointing out the action sequences. Yes, the movie had plenty of action scenes. But there were a few that stood out for me. One of them featured Ethan and Walker's arrival in Paris via a parachute jump. Okay, that kind of entry struck me as unnecessary and rather clichéd. But I also found it rather entertaining and a perfect way to convey Walker's arrogance and Ethan's impatience with the former. Other exciting action sequences that I found particularly memorable were a brutal fight between a thug mistaken as John Lark and Ethan and Walker inside the bathroom of a Parisian nightclub; and a high-speed chase through the streets of Paris. But for me, the best action scene proved to be the last one which found the IMF team (and surprisingly Julia) racing against time to save Benji from Lane and stop Lark's team from setting off two nuclear weapons over the Siachen Glacier. Needless to say, this action sequence involved Luthor and Julia trying to disable one weapon; Ilsa engaged in a brutal fight against Lane, while attempting to save Benji and disable the second weapon; and Ethan engaged in a wild helicopter chase in order to get his hands on the weapons' detonators, which ends near the edge of a cliff. For me, this entire action sequence was the movie's pièce de résistance.

"MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT" marked the sixth time that Tom Cruise portrayed IMF Agent Ethan Hunt. My first instinct is to wonder when Cruise will stop portraying the character, especially as a man of action. But while watching the film, I had completely forgotten about my doubts and simply enjoyed the film . . . and his performance. Watching Cruise portray Hunt over a period of twenty-two years is like witnessing the aging of fine wine. Thanks to the actor's superb performance, his Ethan Hunt has grown less cocky over the years (to a certain extent), more subtle and definitely more mature. This was especially apparent with Ethan's interactions with the aggressive August Walker.

A fine cast supported Cruise in this film. Like Cruise, Ving Rhames as IMF computer tech/hacker Luther Stickell has been with the franchise since the beginning. And he was marvelous as usual as the pragmatic Luther Sticknell. I especially enjoyed the poignant performance he gave in one scene that featured Luther's own reunion with Julia Meade. Simon Pegg was funny as ever as the slightly skittish Benji Dunn, whose skills as a field agent seemed to grow with each movie. Michelle Monaghan returned to portray Ethan's ex-wife, Julia. I enjoyed her role a lot better in this film. The actress finally had a chance to portray Julia as a breathing individual, instead of some feminine ideal. 

Three actors from "ROGUE NATION" returned to appear in this film. Rebecca Ferguson gave an excellent performance in her second outing as former MI6 agent Ilsa Faust, who is determined to return Solomon Lane back in the hands of her agency. Sean Harris reprised his role as former MI6 agent-turned-terrorist, Solomon Lane. I admit that I wanted the franchise to focus on a new Big Bad, but I cannot deny that Harris' performance was as creepy as it was in the fifth film. I enjoyed Alec Baldwin's portrayal of Alan Hunley, the former CIA Director who later became the new IMF Secretary, in this film than I did in "ROGUE NATION". Once his character ceased to be Ethan's antagonist, Baldwin was able to skillfully portray him as intelligent and practical man, instead of a buffoon. 

And yes . . . "FALLOUT" featured some new kids on the block. Many critics were very impressed by Vanessa Kirby's portrayal of black market arms dealer, Alanna Mitsopolis. I found her performance very entertaining, but I was not that dazzled. Wes Bentley gave a solid performance as Julia's new husband, Erik. I only wish that the screenplay had explored his character a bit more. I was impressed by Angela Bassett's performance as the pragmatic and ruthless Erika Sloane, the C.I.A. Director who had replaced Hunley. I especially enjoyed her scenes with both Baldwin and Henry Cavill that allowed her to convey the extent of Sloane's paranoia. But the real surprise turned out to be Cavill, who gave a superb performance as August Walker, the C.I.A. assassin, who had been assigned by Sloane to monitor Ethan's team, following their loss of the plutonium cores. What I admired about Cavill's performance is how he managed to skillfully convey not only Walker's penchant for aggressiveness, but also the character's cool manner and rampant arrogance. His Walker was a real prick and it was no wonder that he drove Ethan up the wall.

Despite a few problems I had with the movie, I really enjoyed it. In fact, I can honestly say that "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT" is my second favorite film in the franchise. No wonder the critics loved it. And I can thank a superb cast led by Tom Cruise, and Christopher McQuarrie for his first-rate screenplay and excellent direction.




Tuesday, January 22, 2019

"INFINITY WAR" and Blame For Thanos' Snap



"INFINITY WAR" AND BLAME FOR THANOS' SNAP

Recently, I found myself watching 2014’s “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” for the umpteenth time. When I saw the presence of Thanos and later, the Power Stone, I found myself thinking about the events that led to Thanos’ snap at the end of 2018’s “THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR”
Ever since “INFINITY WAR” was released at the end of April 2018, many Marvel Cinematic Universe fans and the media have been blaming Peter Quill aka Star-Lord’s expression of grief over Gamora’s death for allowing Thanos the opportunity to make that deadly snap. Yes, Peter’s reaction to the news of Gamora’s death may have prevented the other Avengers and some of the Guardians to take the Infinity Gauntlet from the Titan. But I do not solely blame him. If I must be frank, I do not blame Peter . . . period.

As I had stated earlier, all Peter Quill did was react badly to the death of his fellow Guardian and one of Thanos’ adopted children, Gamora. In fact, Peter’s reaction reminded me of Tony Stark aka Iron Man’s reaction to the discovery in 2016′s “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” that James “Bucky” Buchanan aka the Winter Soldier had murdered his parents years earlier. Only Tony’s excuse for trying to kill Bucky was not as good. Because he knew, beforehand, that Bucky had been brainwashed by HYDRA. Thanos had never brainwashed by anyone into killing Gamora. He had set this whole thing in motion in his misguided belief that he had to “save” the universe by killing off half of its population with the Infinity Stones. And Gamora was one of his adoptive daughters, who had recently become the love of Star-Lord’s life.

And if Star-Lord had made a mistake, why have the majority of fans failed to condemn Thor of the same thing? The new king of Asgardians had not bother to strike the fatal blow to Thanos on Wakanda; because he wanted revenge for the deaths of his adoptive brother Loki, one of his closest friends Heimdall, and some of the Asgardian refugees. So, he did not quite kill Thanos when he slammed his Stormbreaker axe into the latter’s chest. Thor wanted Thanos to suffer in pain for a bit before he could deliver the fatal blow. Only, Thor’s desire for revenge gave Thanos the opportunity to make the snap . . . and kill half of the universe.

This has led me to ask one question. Why have so few have been willing to blame Thanos? He had set this entire situation in motion in the first place. Because he had failed to convince the leaders of his homeworld of Titan from the danger of overpopulation, Thanos had decided that the rest of the universe suffered from the same problem without any real investigation. He decided that he would have to do what Titans’ leaders had failed to do . . . decimate half of the universe’s population in order to save the other half and the resources of many homeworlds. All out of some stupid belief that he was doing some good. Did Thanos ever bothered to find another way to deal with the balance between population growth and resources. Did he ever bothered to find out which planets were in danger of depleted resources for its populations? Did he? I have my doubts, if I must be frank. If Thanos had not engage in any research on which planet was in danger of depleting resources, that would mean that he simply made this decision to collect the Infinity stones in order to commit genocide.

I find it disturbing that a lot of people are willing to condemn Peter Quill for what happened and at the end of “THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR”. And they are willing to do this, while ignoring Thor’s attempt to get revenge. Worse, the fact only a small percentage of moviegoers and critics seemed capable of criticizing or questioning Thanos’ genocidal plans strikes me as truly disturbing.





Sunday, January 20, 2019

"RAINTREE COUNTY" (1957) Photo Gallery



Below are images from "RAINTREE COUNTY", the 1957 adaptation of Ross Lockridge Jr.'s 1948 novel. Directed by Edward Dmytryk, the movie starred Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor and Eva Marie Saint: 



"RAINTREE COUNTY" (1957) Photo Gallery