Mission: Impossible – Fallout

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Christopher McQuarrie

Starring: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Vanessa Kirby, Angela Bassett, Alec Baldwin, and Sean Harris.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it is to try and watch Mission: Impossible – Fallout without your draw hitting the floor. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Mission films, I loved the first one when I was young, and even though it’s not as good, M:I 2 was one of he first films I owned on VHS. That film almost sank the franchise, until JJ Abrams reimagined it, and since then the franchise has gone from strength to strength, even if the press around Tom Cruise’s stunt work sometimes overshadows the actual movies. In a series first, Christopher McQuarrie returns to direct Fallout after adding his own flavour of old school espionage to Rouge Nation.

Fallout follows Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and his rag tag team of IMF agents. After, sacrificing 3 balls of plutonium in order to save the lives of his team, Cruise is forced by CIA head Angela Bassett to team up with CIA thug Henry Cavill to go and retrieve it. Cavil is there to babysit Cruise, and to make sure the mission goes off without a hitch. This proves to be difficult as differing motivations come into play, and the ghosts of Ethan Hunt’s past come back to haunt him.

Sometimes a band will release a couple of albums that are good, but don’t quite work. Each album exploring different musical styles and approaches. Then they will create an album where all of these experimentations coalesce in a way that makes complete sense of what came before. Fallout is that album. It plays like a greatest hits of all that came before, whilst tying everything together in an engaging story. It’s the best Mission Impossible film to date. McQuarrie blends the tension of the first film, the emotional characterisation of the third, and the outrageous stunts of the fourth and fifth film together to create a more than satisfying whole. It’s an adrenaline rush that I haven’t experienced since Mad Max: Fury Road.

Usually with Mission Impossible films you have to talk about the showstopper. The stunt which is getting all the press. In Fallout there are at least four showstoppers. Action set pieces so well put together, you can’t believe what you’re seeing, and made all the more unbelievable by the fact that most of them are done in camera, not against a green screen. Each showstopper offers something different as well, they aren’t just variations on the same stunt. We get skydiving, bike chases, helicopter chases, and the usual M:I special effect of Tom Cruise running. They are all mind blowing. Tom Cruise’s commitment to getting the shot is outstanding, and you’d have to argue that he is now the greatest ever action star to have graced our screens. McQuarrie stages his set pieces against back drops of Paris, London, and mountain ranges to glorious effect. The film looks amazing, and is a complete joy to behold.

McQuarrie had talked about approaching this film in a different way to how he approached Rouge Nation, aware of the fact that each film before had a different director, and a different flavour, he wanted to continue that trend even though he was returning to direct. He succeeds here by blending the jaw-dropping action with the most character driven story to date. Fallout delves into the heart of who Ethan Hunt is, and by pairing him with Henry Cavill, described as the CIA’s hammer compared to Hunt as the scalpel, we see what makes Hunt tick, and that is his desire to save the world with as little civilian casualties as possible. Cruise and McQuarrie play with the idea that Hunt is haunted by every life he thinks he could have saved, and is prepared to sacrifice his own happiness and own life to save just one more person. It’s a great personal battle that plays out on an epic scope; it’s not coincidence that Hunt receives his mission this time in a copy of Homer’s Odyssey.

The best Mission: Impossible film so far, in a series which keeps going from strength to strength. The combination of Cruise and McQuarrie continues to be a potent one, and with great supporting turns from Henry Cavill and Rebecca Ferguson, this may just turn out to be the blockbuster of the summer. The action is spectacular and the story more than keeps up with it. For me this cements Cruises place as the greatest action star ever.


The Greatest Showman

2017, Uncategorized

The Greatest Showman

Dir. Michael Gracey

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson

Coming into The Greatest Showman I was hoping to be charmed. I was a huge fan of La La Land, and with the lyricists behind that hit writing the original songs for this musical, I was hoping to be won over. I’m not a huge fan of musicals, though I’ve seen my fair share, but I’m open minded to them. I did have my concerns though. P.T. Barnum, whilst a fascinating subject, has been accused of everything from animal abuse to racism, and I was concerned about how this film would deal with those issues. My concerns were realised when the film didn’t even try. It’s a tried and tested formulaic musical. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Lamest Showman.

The Greatest Showman is the story of P.T. Barnum. The man who invented show business. The film portrays him as a man who came from nothing, and with nothing but his own imagination and will power, turned himself into one of the most famous and successful men in America. He did this by starting a museum of wax works which soon turned into a circus of odd live acts, everything from trapeze artists to giants, to bearded ladies. The circus works, and we are shown that Barnum’s real flare lies in marketing and selling his visions to the audience. The success of the circus isn’t enough for Barnum, as he wants the respect of the upper class. This comes in the form of Rebecca Ferguson’s Jenny Lind, a European opera singer who Barnum takes on a world tour. This quest to better himself soon has him losing sight of what’s really important, his wife, played by Michelle Williams, and his daughters.

If anything works in The Greatest Showman it’s the performances. Hugh Jackman is undeniably charismatic as P.T. Barnum, finally being able to fully express himself as a song and dance man. This version of Barnum is a good fit for Jackman, and plays to all his strengths. It’s also nice to see Zac Efron back doing what he does best, after years of trying to break free of the High School Musical tag, he fully embraces that part of his talents here as young socialite who falls in with Barnum, and falls in love with Zendaya’s trapeze artist, even though his parents disapprove because of the colour of her skin. Zendaya as well registers strongly, as she transitions from Disney channel star to movie star.

If the performances are strong, it’s the rest of the film that falls down. It’s worrying that each time the film segues into song you feel your whole body squirm with how uncomfortable it feels. It’s cheesy, and not in a knowing way. This is a film which plays to conventions, and never once subverts them. A film in which a characters lowest moment
is turned into a triumph of character within the space of one song. The songs themselves aren’t great either, apart from “This Is Me” none of them really register, and won’t stick around in your head for long. There’s also a lack of characterisation. Great actresses like Michelle Williams and Rebecca Ferguson are left with nothing to do.

If the film doesn’t address the controversy of Barnum’s life, it presents the movie as a fantasy version. Which also comes in handy when explaining the cheap looking special effects. The biggest problem with the film is that it doesn’t practice what it preaches. Barnum is celebrated for treating those with oddities as equals, but the film itself never once does this. When we are introduced to the bearded lady, and yes, that’s the only way to describe her because she isn’t given much more characterisation, she’s hidden behind a sheet, and it’s supposed to be a shock when we, the audience, see her. The people in the circus are never shown as more than other. It’s a huge problem. It’s one thing for the film to overlook the exploitation of these people, but it’s another thing for it to exploit the idea of people with differences in exactly the same way.

If La La Land was the re-birth of the musical film, then The Greatest Showman is the death knell of the traditional musical. It’s a film which is never as bold or as unconventional as its protagonist. It’s predicable at every step. It’s schmaltzy and saccharine. It’s all show, but no substance.