Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Cinema-Maniac: Doppelganger (2003)

Doppelganger follows research scientist Hayasaki (Koji Yakusho) encountering an exact double whose true intention he’s uncertain off. A title like Doppelganger leaves little to the imagination if this was a horror movie. Doing things you would expect a horror movie to do like setting up the rumor if you see a your doppelganger you’ll die, and the doppelganger having devious intentions. Having the classical scenes where the doppelganger causes trouble, and the original taking the blame for his double misdeeds. Such scenes are typical for stories of this nature before revealing it’s true intention to use doppelganger as a metaphor. Using the doppelganger to have characters do some soul searching over building up scares. Opting more for a psychological, and black comedy approach turning a otherwise mundane story into a more interesting, but very messy movie.

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Very classy Yakusho.

One twist to the doppelganger concept is bluntly stating that people who see their doppleganger regularly kill themselves being unable to accept a physical manestification of everything they wish to be. There’s Yuka (Hiromi Nagasaku) who expresses a dislike for her brother doppelganger despite him being everything she wanted her brother to be. Instead of building the movie around these kind of ideas they just remain interesting points to think about. Missing out on the opportunity to create more dynamic characters than just our protagonist. Hayasaki, and his doppelganger regularly bicker with each other revealing bits about Hayasaki as a person. There’s nothing subtle about what you’re meant to take away from the conversations when things are bluntly laid out. For instance, Hayasaki doppelganger telling Hayasaki his flaws, and how he should simply embrace his darker aspect. Leaving little to imagination to work out it themes.

Same thing applies with characters in the movie. Hayasaki assistants in the first half get replace by new characters he barely meets in the second half. A pointless choice since these new characters in the second half basically act the same as Hayasaki assistants in the first half. Their roles are simple from being the love interest to the greedy assistant who wants more recognition, and profit. The third act in particular goes from subtle character development into being more blunt caricatures of their personalities. While the transformation of the main characters are subtle what is not laid out as subtly is how they changed, especially when some dialogue just plainly explain a lesson they learned.

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Surprise! How’d you like your office now!

As for the doppelgangers the film is not interested in discussing their origin. As mentioned before they’re simply use as a metaphor. Much like the invention of the Artificial Body (more accurately mechanical chair with arms) Hayasaki must accept, and move on from his own limitations. There conversations about hinting at the group, or the machine oppressing the individual, but these ideas aren’t fleshed out as clearly. Hayasaki spends over half of the movie away from any oppressing outside force. By removing his own shackles the outside forces don’t bother him until the third act. The company Hayasaki formerly worked for just lets him be with basically no qualms about their professional relationship. Making any commentary it has to say about the shackles in society just seem vaguely there, but not realized.

On the comedy side of things it’s hit or miss. The humor is typically deadpan with jokes spread out sparsely throughout the movie. Like a moment where Hayasaki is trying to get his Artificial Body, an assistant asks if she could help him, Hayasaki says yes she can, and lets her do all the work. Generally I ended up wondering if something was meant to be a joke, or taken seriously since both type of scenes are given the same treatment. The final act of the movie is where it takes a turn for the ridiculous. For instance, Hayasaki, and Yuka being able to keep up pace with speeding van that gets stolen from them. Another goofy moment is Hayasaki somehow surviving getting run over by a van. This is also where most of the lingering plot points are finally resolved, and sadly it’s also in the most spoonfed way it could think off. Once it finally gets to the ending the whole journey feels oddly satisfying despite the occasional clumsiness.

The main reason I checked out this movie is none other than the man himself Koji Yakusho. His performance in Doppelganger proves to me once again he’s true talent to keep an eye out for. Playing two different characters with different personality is not a difficult task. What is difficult is portraying a subtle change in those two characters in a way where it confuses the viewer on whether or not they’re following Hayasaki, or the double. By slowly changing the direction of both the characters he portrayed he’s able to send the viewer for a loop. Most of the film he’s mostly subdue in his shyness, and on the other hand also confident, and free spirited. Further making it difficult to distinguish who he’s portraying exactly in any given scene, and in a positive way no less.

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Do not worry miss! I will kill your brother. (paraphrasing actual dialogue in this scene)

With two Koji Yakusho on screen the trickery to getting this done is pretty simple. Through the uses of green screen, CGI, and body double this task is accomplished. Given it’s relatively low budget it’s odd thinking a film that’s very simplistic required a lot of special effect work for around half of it. There’s nothing impressive about the special effects work in the movie, but considering I was surprise to learn it even had any special effect work done means it’ll probably unnoticed for other who see it. Kiyoshi Kurosawa writer/director attempts to give the film style in a few scenes. Most of the time it’s simply a wide shot of actors talking, but whenever there’s two Koji Yakusho on screen he’ll use a split screen effect to throw viewer off on who is who. This split screen effect it the most visually interesting it gets since it’s the only times Kurosawa tries to be visually bold in any form.

The other actors in the movie do fine in their roles. Hiromi Nagasaki gets a decent size role without complexity in her character. She’s unsure for half of the movie, and the other half she remains optimistic. Akira Emoto who doesn’t appear much in the movie playing Yakusho best friend provides Yakusho best onscreen chemistry. Whenever Emoto, and Yakusho share a scene a lot of their characters history gets vividly just through their performance. Yusuke Santamaria plays his part like a slacker until the final act where his performance is mildly crazy. Becoming more eccentric in his delivery resulting to a silly character being made. As for the rest of the small cast, that’s about it since actors in the first half are forgotten about. With this small cast it’s a good thing they’re good actors because they help make even the uneventful portions feel important.

Doppelganger is an odd film with interesting ideas, hit or miss humor, and a messy execution. All the ideas are here to create something with more depth than it ended up doing. Thankfully, Koji Yakusho performance makes the writing shortcomings easier to forgive thanks to his subtle performance in changing his persona is done flawlessly. It won’t leave you pondering on its themes, and ideas as much as writer/director Kiyoshi Kurosawa would like, but if you’re looking for a different take on the doppelganger types of story this one will entertain, and provide some mild intrigue in it themes.

Rating: 7/10

Cinema-Maniac: Merantau (2009)

I have a spot for Merantau since it was one of the first movies I’ve ever reviewed. It’s an odd feeling for me to check out some of my old stuff from seven years ago, and seeing what changed over the years. In some areas I felt I got better, like better explaining positives, and drawbacks when it comes to a film’s writing. Other areas I can see what part of myself got lost over the years. The biggest one to me easily being how my offline activities affected my personality in my writing. Rarely doing the offshoot reviews where I simply poke fun of something while providing actual criticism in a entertaining manner. Reviews which actually got me to know some readers on a more personal level. What has remained through seven years of writing about movies on, and off again is my admiration for martial art movies has not changed.

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Impressive. Four kicks in four seconds

Merantau centers around a young idealistic man named Yuda (Iko Uwais) from the countryside trying to survive in a big city. The opening sequence further provides details on the importance of Yuda’s journey called Merantau; essentially a rite of passage where a young man leaves one’s place of origin, and find their place in the world. Trying to be like a coming of age story Merantau sounds like a guaranteed great story until you see the actual film. Very little is talked about on the philosophy of silat making the spiritual journey of Yuda get lost in translation. This is sloppily elaborated on through the character of Eric (Yayan Ruhian) implying his merantau changed him into a worse person. Eric hardly appears on screen, added with the absent of philosophy discussed in silat teachings all you have left is making ambiguous connection on Yuda not using silat to kill people.

Paired up with the simplistic storyline, and character arcs you’ll have the groundwork of a great story that never comes into fullizitation. Usually having three type of scenes for its heroes; the introduction, the conflict, and the eventual resolution they’ve worked for. Opting to incorporate as many fight sequences as possible you’ll get the bare minimum require for a story like this to work fine. The good guys are good guys, and the bad guys are bad guys. Streamlined to the point where even if you’re not paying attention you’ll know everything that’s going on. On the downside, the movie does try to generate some sympathy for it heroes. Little time is spend on fleshing them out beyond one scene so that part of the story’s writing falls flat.

One element I can be positive about is the film’s ending. Building on the opening scene the significance of merantau to Yuda’s homeland is also established early on. Spending a brief time touching on Yuda’s brother who failed merantau, and the social impact it had on him in the community. By getting across these simple things the ending actually provides something worth reflecting on. Being conflicting in a positive way since Yuda is doing his best to uphold his tradition while the environment endangers his life. Overcoming Yuda lack of depth as a character by inadvertently adding meaning to the journey makes a story that works fine end on a good note.

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To be honest, this movie is a good excuse for me to show some fighting gifs.

Iko Uwais in his first leading role has a natural screen presence about him. Before the movie gets to any fighting, Iko holds himself decently in the acting department. The role doesn’t require Iko Uwais to speak for long stretches cleverly hiding Iko lack of acting experience. Requiring for half of the movie for Iko to simply provide the appropriate facial expressions in a given scene before getting into fighting. Once Iko does get into the fighting he impresses with his athleticism, and graceful skill in performing his fight sequences. Another plus to Iko is him doing his own stunts, even if they aren’t that dangerous compare to other martial art movies.

Iko other co-stars despite having more experience than himself they do fine. Actors like Christine Hakim, and Donny Alamsyah only appear in the beginning of the movie, and than are gone until they appear again in the ending. There’s also Chika Jessica, and Yusuf Aulia simply acting as the poor child later gets written out of the movie for a large portion of it. Chika is simply in the movie to appear as sympathetic as possible. She only gets one scene to deliver a dramatically heavy scene, and after that just becomes a damsel in distress. There’s also Alex Abbad (who surprisingly plays the main villain in The Raid 2) essentially playing a punching bag. His line delivery in English is really slow, but when speaking in his native language he sounds natural, though doesn’t do anything to stand out in his portrayal.

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Their acting won’t impress, but their fighting skills will.

With the actors getting shoved in the background brings us to the martial artists. One of them being Yayan Ruhian who yes has a fight with Iko Uwais in a elevator. Luckily the little dialogue Yayan has is delivered well, but doesn’t have much screen time in the movie. Then we get to the villains Mads Koudal, and Laurent Buson whom are the weakest actors in the movie. Despite Laurent being French, and Koudal being Danish both sound come off stilted everytime they talk. Thankfully both Koudal, and Buson perform in a 2 on 1 fight against Iko that makes putting up with their bad acting worth it to some degree.

Gareth H. Evans in first martial art movie showed a lot potential to help craft great action sequences. Something that’s apparent throughout the movie in spite of it budgetary shortcomings Evans tries to add some visual flairs. Some of these are simple like a tracking shot following Iko from a telephone booth; the camera goes over the telephone booth, and then proceeds to follow Iko into an alley. To more complex shots like multiple single takes during fight sequences almost all requiring Iko to fight against multiple people. A nice touch in the movie is Evan usage of music to help elevate sequences to make them more exciting. Knowing exactly when music should start, and stop playing in creating a mood. Something he would later on perfect in The Raid.

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Of course, one last awesome fight gif

The fight sequences are nicely choreographed, well shot, and edited to flow nicely. With as minimum cuts as possible Evan fight scenes never feel overly edited. With this being Gareth Evans, and Iko Uwais first martial art film the fight sequences performance varies with some parts of a fight being performed more slowly than others. There’s also spots within the fight scenes where an actor has to stay, or go in place before the fight could progress. An example of this is when Iko throws a bottle at a fighter face, the fighter has his face cover for seconds, and stays like that before Iko gets close enough to pick him up, and toss him through a table. Instances like this are thankfully rare throughout. Offering plenty of good fight scenes also helps alleviate the problem.

Merantau is simplistic on the story front, but decides to make up for its shortcoming by including as many fight sequences as it possibly can. Once you get the first serious fight scene in the movie you’ll never have to wait too long for the next one to pop on. It’s missed the opportunity to make it’s story feel grander than it actually is, but any fan of martial arts movies will definitely leave entertained.

Rating: 8/10

Cinema-Maniac: Streets of Fury (1996)

During the mid 90s there was a series of Hong Kong movies by the name of Young, and Dangerous that were released. This series of movies focused on a group of young triad members, detailing their adventures, dangers, and growth in Hong Kong triad society. Aside from the fact it has some Hong Kong actors I like (they even got Simon Yam) I can’t really say anything else on the series since I haven’t seen them. However, it’s during this craze of goo wak jai (asian gangsters/triad members) that inspired many imitators to duplicate it success. Streets of Fury (1996) happens to be one those movie starring one of my favorite Hong Kong actor Louis Koo. In the same vein of Simon Yam, Louis Koo is also an actor who regardless of what he’s in I’ll watch it because I like him that much. Even in his first major film role, Koo striking on screen presence shines through in this horribly misguided movie.

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Deadlock here, second best actor in the movie.

Streets of Fury starts out by introducing the viewer to down-and-out teens Hu (Michael Tse Tin-wah) and Yu-long (Louis Koo Tin-lok) who are repeatedly victimized by local gang leader Short-Sighted (Simon Lui Yu-yueng) and his buddies. From here the movie gives out simple characteristics to our protagonists. Hu loses his temper easily, and gets into fights frequently whereas Yu-Long is more laid back, and caring. Through these defining features the movie does little to expand on them. One of the movie major issues is Hu, and the film attempt at trying to make him sympathetic. It’s impossible to feel any remorse towards Hu when he mistreats his girlfriend, is shown easily sleeping with women despite being in a relationship, and gives his girlfriend money, and tells her to get an abortion as soon as he hears she is pregnant. Not only that, but it’s implied during a timeskip he never went back, and reconcile with his ex-girlfriend after participating in a violent gang fight.

Hu is the antithesis of Yu-long in every way, yet doesn’t commit to making this character entirely unlikable. There’s a point in the story where Hu feels some semblance of remorse for everything he put his ex-girlfriend before the movie ditches that idea to follow Yu-long who’s a more rounded character. When the movie doesn’t need a conflict to push things forward Hu gets written out of the movie. He doesn’t have much of a personality contributing to his static nature, and after a while you’ll easily forget he was originally the main character.

Another major issue is the film’s pacing. Either escalating events to quickly, or meanders around in its attempts to flesh out Yu-long relationship with Shan (Teresa Mak). When it rush it resorts to easy tricks to make you dislike the film’s villain Short-Sighted. He doesn’t just rape Hu’s girlfriend, along with his entire gang, but does it again to Yu-long girlfriend later on in the movie even after Hu chopped up one of his hands! In general, characters don’t learn anything, and if there is a change in them it occurs off screen.

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This guy is a teenager? Not buying it.

On the meandering side you have Shan, an old schoolmate of Yu-long who immediately falls in love with him. Leading to a relationship where Shan gets decently developed while Yu-long receives a minor character arc. Unfortunately, the writing decides to basically rehash the first act, and this time have film villain Short-Sighted rape Yu-long girlfriend resulting in the same events playing out like act one. You have another gang fight between our leads, and Short-Sighted with the only difference being how the confrontation ends the second time. I honestly can’t recall another movie I’ve ever seen rehashing events of the first act of its story for its conclusion.

The writing is on the nose at times being unintentionally funny; like a brief exchange between Hu, and Yu-long where Hu talks about Hu dead parents. These two grew up under the same household so Hu basically saying “Yu-long, we’re brothers, even if not blood related, or from the same parents” comes off unnatural during their exchange. What the movie is trying go for is uncertain since in a coming of age movie growth is necessary, and our lead characters have little time to reflect on their life. Only two minor characters in the movie actually reflect about the hand life dealt with them, but they’re hardly in the movie. Any thematic exploration there could have been is lost in its jumbled mess of a story. Being incapable of crafting a balance between a coming of age story, and triad crime drama.

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See the guy in the middle? He realizes he gets overshadow by Louis Koo (left) pretty quickly

By far the most likable actor in Streets of Fury is Louis Koo. His on screen presence is simply natural. He doesn’t try make himself look tough like his co star Michael Tse attempts to do. Making Koo more believable in his portrayal. Another thing Koo does is not dialing up the less favorable aspects of his character. Understanding that his character while misguided should still be sympathetic. Completely the opposite of Michael Tse who goes overboard in making his character unlikable. Whenever Michael Tse has to portray a more gentler side of his character it’s tough pill to swallow because of how unlikable he is in general. Dragging the movie down when he’s the focus.

Tsui Kam-Kong who plays the dreadlock triad leader King. He simply hams up his role being the most laid back triad member in the entire movie. Through his silly mannerism he carefully makes a comedic character who’s also capable of acting tough. Pulling off the difficult task of making a comedy relief convincingly look tough. Ben Lam Kwok Bun who plays brother beast also balances the delicate side with the tough side as Brother Beast. It’s a shame he wasn’t in the movie more since he’s pretty good. Of course there’s also Alan Chui Chung-San as another mobster whose only memorable because he typically carries a miniature fan around with him because it’s always too hot.

Simon Lui pulls in an unlikable performance just like Michael Tse, but this time in the film favors. His character is written to be pathetic, and despicable in every sense of the words. Buying him as a teenager is a bit tough with a receding hairline, and five o’clock shadow, but other than that he’s fine. There’s also the two ladies Gigi Lai, and Teresa Mak whom only act as romantic interest. Teresa Mak gets a bit more to do since she has more screen time. Also, I have to address Jerry Lamb being on the cover of the DVD I own since his only purpose is getting killed. His contribution is minuscule, and considering there’s three other actors who have more screen time than him that’s just baffling he’s on the cover.

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This scene ends when one of them pisses their pants. No, I’m not joking either.

Directed by Hin Sing ‘Billy’ Tang he does an incompetent job on filming the fight scenes. Going for a documentary look to it the fight sequences are clearly shot on a hand held camera. This is an issue since the camera shakes a lot making 90% of the fights unwatchable. Considering the movie are simple, large brawls it’s baffling how Billy Tang couldn’t maintain a clear image. The 10% where it is visible the choreography is unimpressive, and needed to be rehearse more to appear more natural than it did. Other than the lackluster music, and okay editing there’s pretty much nothing left to cover. Okay, there’s a magazine Michael Tse reads that had an image of Young, and Dangerous 3 on the cover for all intent, and purposes is a unsubtle hint at what it ripping off poorly.

Streets of Fury is a movie not made for artistic expressions, but to simply latch of the success of a popular movie, and make a quick buck out of it. Movies like Streets of Fury get made in droves not only in Hong Kong, but every film industry you can think of has at least one of these movies. They usually get forgotten about fairly quickly, and even when an actor becomes a superstar in their country film industry like Louis Koo eventually did. Very few of their fans even bother digging up movies like these as they continue to collect dust.

Rating: 3/10

Cinema-Maniac: Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015) reached a bar very few action movies can ever reach. Being both high brow in its writing, and offering fantastic action setpieces one after the other. Rogue Nation perfected the Mission Impossible formula leaving me (as well as many others) wondering how could Christopher McQuarrie, and Tom Cruise would top what Rogue Nation perfected. The answered turned out to be surprisingly simple; further expands on the character writing of Rogue Nation, increase the amount of action sequences, and diving into the importance of how much someone should be willing to sacrifice for the greater good. At the time of this writing I do feel it’s a early to tell if Mission: Impossible – Fallout would be considered among one of the greatest action movies ever made years from now, but at this moment it’s makes a strong case for itself that it definitely should be considered as one of the action genres finest film.

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Hunt, your mission briefing, will be shorter than this review.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout follows Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), and his allies in the IMF attempting to put an end to the remaining members of The Syndicate now reformed as a new group called The Apostles. Racing against time to put a stop to The Apostles plan to use three plutonium cores for a simultaneous nuclear attack. The film establishes a strong footing in its opening sequence through the simple means of story continuity for the first time in the series. Whereas previous entries simply mentioned past events in previous movies, Fallout takes the biggest risk of the franchise directly continuing the story from a previous installment. What this immediately setups is an understanding of Ethan Hunt enemy, the risk they pose for the entire world, and limits they will push Ethan Hunt physically, and mentally. The opening sequence masterfully gets across the villain motives, sets up the theme of how much one is willing to sacrifice for the greater good, and for long time fans a welcoming subtle nod to the original film’s opening sequence. Even if you don’t recognize the nod to the original film the opening sequence is still fantastic. Yes, even Benji (Simon Pegg) ongoing gag longing to wear a face masked since Ghost Protocol is finally concluded.

After the opening credits finishes playing the film continues to waste no time kickstarting the story, and it never lets up. Replicating the writing quality of Rogue Nation you can expect high brow writing, great character interactions, and thematic exploration of this movie equivalent to “The Trolley Problem”. An example of high brow writing would easily be how the movie handles the reveal of a double agent among the group. While visually there’s no subtlety to who it is the movie goes with the wise choice to reveal the double agent to the audience, and then having Ethan Hunt, and company discover who it is. By not dragging out the obvious twist it’s then able to further focus on what it does best time, and time again; setup an action/dramatic scene, and provide a great payoff. Like Rogue Nation before it, Fallout also throws in twists to throw you off while never becoming difficult to follow. One tricky element that Fallout is able replicate is making it uncertain where Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) loyalties truly are. Pulling such a feat without feeling convoluted, or a rethread of what Rogue Nation did. Expanding on the character Ilsa, and the relationship between her, and Ethan Hunt.

Continuing on, Fallout is also capable of smoothly subverting your expectations when needed too. Besides how the double agent is dealt with, another aspect it subverts is Ethan Hunt being push into a corner. With the movie making a case about one life sacrifice in favor of the greater good there’s a sequence that forces Ethan Hunt to think of a way around a difficult predicament. Not only resulting in a creative way for Hunt to out of a no-win situation, but also provides the perfect lead into a lengthy chase sequence. Fallout is full of moments that will have you impress how carefully crafted it is, and how it’s capable to make  anything that can come out of thin air appear naturally into the story.

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When not destroying earth as Superman, Klark Kent tries to save the world as a CIA agent

Out of everything in this movie the biggest praise I can easily offer it is Ethan Hunt, and his teammates have nicely evolved into well rounded characters at this point in the franchise. In Fallout, you’ll get a much clearer idea of what Ethan Hunt is all about, and why he continues to work in the IMF despite his desire for a normal life. For the second time in the series, Ethan Hunt credibility as an IMF agent is questioned again by the CIA. Exploring this plot point properly several times throughout the film, and providing fleshed out perspectives on it. One thing long time fans will easily enjoy is seeing the return of Ethan Hunt’s wife from the third movie in this outing. Leading to the most satisfying dramatic moment in the franchise, and being the emotional high point of Ethan Hunt’s journey.

When it comes to the team aspect on a dramatic level it’s the best the team has been. Humor is dail down, but manage to get in a few comedic bits in there. The team feel a lot closer together than in previous outings. Like with Ghost Protocol, and Rogue Nation, Fallout places equal importance on the team work, especially in the climax where envisioning a possibility for Ethan Hunt to pull it off alone is impossible. Not only that, but this entry also provides the team the closest encounter to death they’ve face, and despite you knowing the outcome is still exciting to witness.

Finally the return of Solomon Lane is wise choice. It’s the only time in the franchise history Ethan Hunt, and the IMF are up against a villain from a previous movie. Rogue Nation established animosity between Ethan, and Lane. Fallout takes it to another level further exploring the psychological results Lane has had on Ethan Hunt. Further seeing the toll the mind games are having on him. Solomon Lane isn’t simply here to be a foil to Ethan Hunt with his world ending plan, but also attempt to destroy Ethan Hunt emotionally. Becoming the series best villain garnering a full understanding of Ethan Hunt, and how to break him emotionally.

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Wouldn’t a Mission: Impossible movie without Tom Cruise running

Tom Cruise being the reliable actor he has become through the franchise is once again fantastic as Ethan Hunt. Being the first time in the series to subtly acknowledge Ethan Hunt age, and the wear the his body is taking. Not through dialogue, but through simplistic visual cues like showing Tom Cruise stumble more while running a lot, and his punches not having the same force behind them as they use too in fight scenes. Another example of this would be when Tom Cruise crashes into a car while driving a motorcycle. As he gets up, he is visibly limping whereas in Mission: Impossible 2 Ethan Hunt was able to still fight after a head collision in midair, and falling several feet to the ground. Applying a different kind of reliability to Ethan Hunt without taking away any of the traits that makes the character fun to see on screen.

On the acting side Tom Cruise easily tops his performance from Mission: Impossible 3 to portray the series most humanize version of Ethan Hunt. There are several scenes dedicated taking advantage of Cruise acting ability, and letting him show cracks in the superhuman like spy of Ethan Hunt. Coming off as more worried, more sincere, and most importantly more emotionally invested in the livelihood of everyone involve. Bouncing off nicely with the cast of usual suspects like Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ving Rhames. One fascinating thing about Cruise throughout the series is how the longer the series went on the more stunt oriented sequences there’s been in the movie. Usually an actor, like Jackie Chan for example, would usually decrease the amount of dangerous stunts they perform, but Cruise is the opposite seemingly desiring to up the ante the older he gets. The opening sequence is a testament to his ability to draw me into his character, and story. Even though I’ve been a fan of the series for the good part of over a decade, and should have seen some things coming. I was still taken back being surprised by the turn of events, and that mostly because Tom Cruise always does his best in these films.

Besides being a great action franchise, Mission: Impossible I sometime jokingly referred to as the reasons Tom Cruise is awesome. I mentioned before how Tom Cruise is very committed to portraying Ethan Hunt, and becoming him so the audience can further believe, and become engaged in whatever he does. In Fallout, Tom Cruise learned to fly a Helicopter performing the corkscrew dive; a maneuver even experienced helicopters pilots would be afraid of trying. That’s not even including the details Cruise is performing the Corkscrew dive close to some mountains making an already difficult maneuver even more dangerous to pull off without a hitch. Despite the danger involved in making the sequence, it turned out exhilarating. Rarely do action movies ever show their main actors actually flying a helicopter, and seeing Tom Cruise actually performing the sequence makes it that much more exciting to watch. Yes, Tom Cruise runs in this movie, and to date is the most you’ll see him run in a single movie.

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Just like in Avengers, Jeremy Renner is nowhere in sight

Alongside Tom Cruise is the reliable supporting cast. Simon Pegg continues to be a joy to watch in this series, and seeing his character evolve into a fully realized character. Unlike in previous movie, Simon Pegg actually gets to participate in one action sequence in the film, and it’s rather tense wondering if he’ll live or die. A true testament in his abilities to nail down a role that is maturing in each installment. Ving Rhames gives his best performance as Luther in the series. He as a dramatic scene discussing Ethan past with Rebecca Ferguson that is heartfelt. Being the most dramatically demanding Ving Rhames ever had to be in the series. Handling the guilt Luther feels about his part in the mission gone wrong in the opening sequence.

Rebecca Ferguson returns once again reprising her role as Ilsa. She is once again terrific as Ilsa portraying the badass femme fatale side of her with a nice touch of vulnerability. Always coming off as capable, and once again, being able to make you unsure on where her loyalty lies. Alec Baldwin reprises his role as Hunley. He isn’t in the film for long, but the film makes good use of him in his brief time. Another familiar is Sean Harris himself as Lane. He’s able to deliver the animosity, and hatred he has for the entire IMF through his delivery. Being very cold, and taking joy in seemingly being one step ahead of Hunt, and his team. Not only that, but this film also provides Sean Harris a scene to prove he can be a match for the team in a fight.

Then there’s also the also newcomer in Henry Cavill. While his appearance, and the way he’s frame leaves little room for shock Cavill avoids hamming it up as Walker. Instead, Cavill opts to portray Walker as a smooth, younger, and more improved version of Ethan Hunt. Fitting in nicely into the cast. There’s also Liang Yang whom despite not having much in the way of words has a standout sequence where he fights against Cruise, and Cavill in a awesome fight scene. Other than that, there’s also the other ladies with Vanessa Kirby, and Angela Bassett playing bit roles in the movie. There’s also fine addition to the movie. Finally, there’s also the appearance of Michelle Monaghan reprising her role as Julia, and her time in the movie is not wasted. Taking part in a rather touching scene between her, and Cruise.

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This fight here, simply awesome.

When it comes to action Christopher McQuarrie once again manages to outdo himself in that department. One of Fallout’s most outstanding action sequence comes in early in the form of a 2 on 1 brawl in a restroom. Neither Tom Cruise, or Henry Cavill are not martial artist, but thanks to intelligent fight choreography the fight sequence comes out amazing. Being quick in performance, fantastically shot to see happening clearly, and edited together to flow very smoothly. Not allowing a single moment for the viewer to take their eyes of the fight sequence as they use the environment destroying a good part of it during the process. Another nice touch in the fight sequence is despite Cruise, and Cavill fighting against Liang Yang it ensures everyone gets in a fair shot on each other. No one during the fight sequence no one is afraid to take hits, or look weak allowing the tide of the fight to constantly change. Through nice timing no one in the fight is simply standing around smartly implementing Tom Cruise, and Henry Cavill cooperation to basically double team Yang. Also, Liang Yang deserves some special credit for his stunt work during this scene breaking a good chunk of the bathroom with his body.

The one sequence you’ll likely not forget in this movie is the Helicopter sequence. It is ambition, lengthy, and exhilarating all the same. Requiring Cruise to hijack a Helicopter mid air while hanging climbing up a rope tied to some medical equipment. It’s even cooler seeing the sequence for yourself, and seeing close up shots that Tom Cruise is actually doing these things. Drawing you further into the rush of the scene. There’s also Christopher McQuarrie favorite kind of action sequence, and that’s lengthy chase sequences. What’s impressive about Fallout chase sequences isn’t the amount of destruction in them, but the staging of them. Something simple like Tom Cruise riding his motorcycle in front of oncoming traffic, or quickly maneuvering through narrow alleys when making quick turns. Most notable in these sequences are McQuarrie usage of sound allowing the natural sound of the vehicle in used with some music to company it to his chase sequences exciting. Christopher McQuarrie loves his lengthy chase sequences, but is also smart enough to offer up a variety of action sequences so the audiences won’t be bore, and each them is excellent.

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The light in this still, is the light towards the end of this review!

The music is composed by Lorne Balfe, and it is simply perfect. Being the right kind of commanding without being bombastic, or drawing too much attention to itself. For example, the track Free Fall used during a skydiving sequence into Paris during a stormy sky perfectly sets the mood. While you’re witnessing the sight of thick dark clouds with lighting giving abound here comes the track “Free Fall” starting off big with several orchestrated instruments playing at once before bringing in a choir to make it sound more epic. My description doesn’t do it justice. Music is a big part of the movie to create an atmosphere. Under the hands of McQuarrie direction is used to it fullest extent to help improve the mood of scenes instead of dictating how they should make you feel. Finally, the redemption of the Mission Impossible theme here is again excellement with the opening credit sequence being another close match to the original TV series. Also, it’s nice to see the closing credits sequence getting some love before hard cutting to the usual black background with white text overlay scrolling down. It doesn’t impact the overall enjoyment of the movie, but I appreciate these nice small touches.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout takes the perfected formula of Rogue Nation, and expands on it in all the right ways. Transcending the label of the genre it belongs in. Being a masterclass of editing, storytelling, action, acting, and anything else you can think off in one exciting movie. Serving as a reminder that action movies can aspire to become more than just simple entertainment, and supply you with plenty more emotion when the effort, and dedication is put into providing the audience some heart to go along with all excitement it provides.

Rating: 10/10

Cinema-Maniac: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

My mindset before the release of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation was one of middling intrigue. At this point, the only Christopher McQuarrie film I saw was Jack Reacher (2012). A decent movie that didn’t exactly make me believe MI 5 could surpass what Ghost Protocol did before it when it was announce he would be director. Then came out another film once again uniting the duo of Cruise, and McQuarrie by the name of Edge of Tomorrow (2014) which despite some laps in logic did impressed me on many levels. However, when I finally saw Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation did it dawn on me that McQuarrie had a great understanding of the Mission: Impossible series than previous directors ever did before him. Feeling like he took the time to see each individual entry before crafting Rouge Nation. Christopher McQuarrie basically took defining aspects of previous movies putting his own flair to them; the at times high brow writing of the first movie, the romantic tension between Hunt, and love interest in the second, the strong chemistry between Ethan, and the film’s villain in the third, and finally the team banter, and comedy from Ghost Protocol. In Rogue Nation, Christopher McQuarrie is able to expertly combine all these different traits into a high brow blockbuster film finally perfecting the series formula in such a spectacular manner.

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As you can see here, Cruise also can’t believe the length of this review.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation once again follows Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) on the run from the CIA, following the IMF’s disbandment as he tries to prove the existence of the Syndicate, a mysterious international terrorist group. Let’s get the obvious out of the way by addressing Ethan Hunt is once again disavowed from the IMF. However, this is actually used to the film’s story advantage in a clever way. Addressing the lack of consequences of the many destructive methods, and near misses to save the world the IMF had in this series. Witnessing the courtroom scene where CIA director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) making a case to disband the IMF is one that finally demonstrates repercussion the series had been largely ignoring. This immediately put the movie on the right track forward because it’s not shoehorned, and the arguments for the IMF to be disband have reasonable ground to them recalling events from previous movies. Eliminating the notion that after every M:I film’s ending has Hunt, and his team walk off into the sunset after every mission. In turn giving the stakes of the film’s story greater gravity in a natural way without feeling the need to one up itself.

Another small detail that McQuarrie did is breaking the tradition of the usual mission briefing. Before Rogue Nation, the mission briefing simply serve as a way to deliver exposition about Hunt’s mission objective to the viewer. In this installment it’s no different, but executes in a manner where it expertly kicks off the rivalry between Ethan Hunt, and the film’s villain Lane (Sean Harris). Immediately showing Lane ability to think outside of the box to pull one over Ethan Hunt. Making a strong impression on long time fans being the first villain in the series to make his presence know directly to Ethan Hunt in a such big way. Getting into Ethan Hunt head in their first encounter, and showing the viewer that Lane might be a greater challenge than anything Ethan Hunt has faced before.

When it comes to everything else in the writing it does a excellent job making you question the loyalties of all party involve. Brandt (Jeremy Renner) for instance has ever increasing doubt about Hunt’s ability to make the right call anymore. Showing a nice progression of Brandt, and Hunt friendship being in murky water with their disagreements on how to approach the situation at hand. As the film progresses, it plays around with viewer expectations by throwing in a few twists that make the film’s story more complex. Never becoming convoluted, or to difficult to follow as it easily delivery information through a clear, and concise manner.

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Of course this one also has Tom Cruise obligatory running.

My favorite moment of high brow writing would easily be a sequence before the action climax starts. Ethan goes to a specific location to meet up with Lane, and attempt to save his friends in the process. The way the sequence plays out is a work of art. Expertly setting up mood that both sides simply hate each other. Making you question if there’s a way for Ethan Hunt to turn the tide in his favors during this sequence. The movie is filled with smart moments like these being more intelligent than your average movie, and respecting the viewer intelligence by not spelling out to the viewer its plot filled with some twists. While I’m at it, there’s only one usage of the face mask used in the entire movie. A refreshing change of pace making its only usage be a an actual surprise instead of something expected.

The best new addition to the film series is disavowed MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). Easily being the best written female character the series had walking a fine between her vulnerable, and cold experienced agent side of her. Allowing another to display the effect of being an agent has on its operatives. Her characterization is handle well being able explore the obligations one has to their nation as a agent, and if it’s worth it. Being able to draw some parallels between her, and Ethan Hunt characters. Hinting at a possible flare of romance between the two which is done nicely without it taking over the story. In a very subtle way, Ilsa Faust character also has traits that remind Ethan Hunt of his wife from the third installment. Never making this aspect be brought to the forefront is a nice detail for long time fans of the films series to catch.

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Benji: “So, which one of us should be first to tell Hunt we’re quiting?”

Returning once again to the series the team banter with one other. This time though, Luther (Ving Rhames) finally gets back into the series fitting nicely with Brandt, and Benji making for some hilarious interactions. Another nice callback from Ghost Protocol is Benji getting excited for having the chance to use a facemask. Surprisingly, the friendship between Benji, and Ethan Hunt in this installment sees some great growth between them. Getting to the point where the series finally evolve from the starting point where the team felt like an accessory, and now finally feel more like their long time friends adding more emotional involvement for the characters involved.

Then finally comes the villain Lane (Sean Harris). Much like the third installment villain, Lane brings back the amodisity, and the tension between our hero, and villain missing from Ghost Protocol. Doing more than just getting the upper hand on Ethan Hunt. Lane brings in more of a mind game element as he constantly escapes Ethan Hunt grasp at every turn. Getting to Ethan Hunt head, and seeing the psychological effect Lane has on Ethan Hunt to the point where Hunt dilludes his mission objective from his obsession. In turn creating a blurred line between Hunt, and Brandt friendship in the film. Spending some time to also explore his motivation to be more than just a evil doer whose only in it for the money. Making Lane a good foil for Ethan Hunt, and far more compelling to see how in the world would Ethan would be able to beat someone equal to him.

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Pretty smooth Cruise

Tom Cruise (as he usually does) is fantastic as Ethan Hunt. This time the movie gives Cruise well balance material to work with again. Balancing the superhuman, and the everyman aspect of his character perfectly. For instance, only someone like Tom Cruise will make you believe he can skillfully drive a car in narrow alleys during a high speed chase sequence minutes after barely coming back to life. Being able to display Hunt more obsessive, and self doubt to his character that previous entries didn’t allow Cruise to touch on. Getting to see more of Ethan Hunt flaws whereas previous movie would usually portray him of being calm, even under extreme pressure. Here you visibly get a glimpse of the mission getting to Cruise. Beyond showing the usual from Ethan Hunt, Tom Cruise also plays off his other actors pretty well. Especially with Simon Pegg whom both manage to bring together plenty of laughs, and surprisingly amount of dramatic weight in a few scenes.

There’s an underwater sequence where Tom Cruise holds his breath underwater for over a minute. While the sequence itself has some usage of CGI. When Tom Cruise holds his breathe in that sequence that is actually Tom Cruise holding his breath underwater. While you don’t get to see a continuous shot of Cruise holding his breath for the entirety of those six minutes the fact he even learned to do that is some serious commitment to his craft.

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This opera sequence is pretty cool

Simon Pegg plays Benji with his screen time increasing. He adds a lot of humor to the film, and his back & forth banter with Tom Cruise is stellar. Being able to get to display a bit of his more serious side in a few scenes. Like in Ghost Protocol, Pegg never forgets to portray Benji as a just normal character instead of the relegated comedic relief. Jeremy Renner return as Brandt with a role that received a slight downgrade. Renner doesn’t participate in the action sequences as he did in Ghost Protocol, but the movie still makes good use of him. Usually having Renner break up some serious moments through his comedic delivery. Simply seeing him reluctantly go along with everything Cruise suggest despite his best knowledge makes him enjoyable to watch on screen.

Ving Rhames, the other long running staple of the Mission: Impossible franchise makes an appearance, and gets a good amount of screen time in a supporting role. Rhames has always been an enjoyable part of the MI films, and here it’s no different. Seeing him for the first time interact with Renner, and Simon Pegg for a good amount of time was a enjoyable part of his return. Also, there’s one moment where Ving Rhames, despite not looking what you expect a computer whiz to look like, absolutely sells a line of how good he is. Alec Baldwin has a supporting role in the movie, and he too is another nice addition in the series. He interacts with Renner the most for a good portion of the movie. He simply knows how to properly deliver his dialogue whether it’s building up how awesome Ethan Hunt, or expressing the unlikelihood of everything simply a coincidence.

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Rebecca Ferguson seen here kicking ass

Rebecca Ferguson steals the show from the rest of her co-stars. How can’t she when she’s basically portraying the female equivalent of Ethan Hunt in the movie. Showing she’s more than a pretty face carrying herself during the action sequences as she does during her dramatic scenes. Her chemistry with Tom Cruise is simply smooth you believe every encounter they have together. Getting ample of opportunities to show a wide arrange of emotion. Being a flirtatious, a bit saddened, and a bit humorous allows her to steal the show whenever she’s on screen portraying a cool character.

Finally the last bit of actors worth mentioning. Simon McBurney gets a decent amount of screen time to make an impression as a classy, but slimy MI6 handler. Then comes the villains of the film in Sean Harris, and Jens Hulten who plays his main henchman. Saying very little on screen Jens Hulten is able to pick the weight of being a formidable foe where Sean Harris expertly portrays a cunning man who’s willing to do anything to win. Both together create a perfect balance as the foils to the heroes. While Sean Harris lacks the intimidation of MI 3 villain. Harris, and Cruise are still able to match that rage filled chemistry between the two of them.

Christopher McQuarrie delivers when it comes to the action sequences with some stellar set pieces to behold. One of them takes place in a opera house with Cruise attempting to stop an assassination on the Austrian Chancellor. When Cruise eventually encounters one of the assassins they get into a fight scene as the opera equipment around will occasionally move. This whole sequence is masterfully set up in every aspect. Using the music within the sequence to circulate tension as times quickly runs out, and Cruise is put into a corner on how to best come out of the situation. There’s also another good fight scene early on in the movie where Cruise, and Rebecca Ferguson beat up some of the members of the Syndicate in a torture room that’s pretty creative as it is somewhat brutal.

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This movie is filled with cool moments, like this chase scene

A lengthy chase sequence in Morocco, Casablanca is easily the most impressive sequence on a technical level. Especially one moment where Cruise during the car chase is getting chased by three armed motorcyclist in a narrow street, and manages to take out two of them. However that specific moment was done it certainly looked cool. Then after that another high speed chase sequence, but this time on a motorcycle, and Cruise himself performs the entire chase sequence without wearing any protective gear. It’s impressive to see the skill of the motorcyclists smoothly maneuvers around traffic. By the time the climatic actions sequence arrives you’ll be wondering how they’ll top that, and they find a way through a mixture of hand to hand combat, and a bit of gunplay. Whether it’s all conversation, or action on screen Christopher McQuarrie knows how to keep his viewers eyes glue to the screen.

The music this time was composed by Joe Kraemer elevating the movie to another level. It’s exciting, tension racking, exotic, and so much more that he’s able to get across properly. You might not remember the soundtrack once it’s over, but it will definitely improve the overall enjoyment of the movie without drawing too much attention to itself. Heck, even Giacomo Puccini famous orchrestrated track, “Nessun dorma”, even makes an appearance. Yes, Lalo Schifrin theme song for the Mission: Impossible gets another redenition, and another usage in the movie. At this point, there’s no need for me to you tell how good the opening sequence is, and simply retaining the spirit of it while adding to the track is more than enough to keep it good. Also, another nice going on the credits sequence for looking the closest to the original tv series.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation manages to take elements from previous movies either matching them, or surpassing them with Christopher McQuarrie own take on them. All without feeling like it’s simply copying from other movies able to establish a strong identity of its own. Not only is Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation one of the best entries in the franchise perfecting the formula, but also one of the best, and smartest action movies you could find in the genre.

Rating: 10/10

Cinema-Maniac: Annihilation (2018)

When it comes to science-fiction very few films can ever surpassed the sheer stupidity that was Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012) which I consider the dumbest science fiction film I’ve ever seen. I prefer sci-fi films that try to explore complex ideas about human nature over space epic. With this in mind I also understand science-fiction, like all genres, can be molded into what the storyteller so desire. So not every sci-fi is going to be smart, even though smart writing is what I typically look for in sci-fi. Annihilation ditches the advance technology in favor of being a hard sci-fi film with elements of psychological horror, and mystery thrown in. Resulting in a movie that has something to say, but doesn’t know to say it, nor combine all of its different elements into a single working piece.

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Missing in this image, intelligent life forms.

Annihilation follows Lena (Natalie Portman), and her team exploring a mysterious zone called the Shimmer that is ever expanding in order to seek answers. As far as science fiction movies goes there’s little in the way of advance technology to be found here. The movie certainly could have used some of that advance technology because you’ll have very little in that regard in the film’s writing. For starter, let’s start off with the fact the film is incapable of creating psychological horror with shallow characters. With the exception of Lena, everyone else who explores the Shimmer are clunkily developed in one exchange of dialogue. Having little to go on for these characters prevents there from being any tension building up. Lena who is fleshed out must face the more self destructive side of her personality in the few attempts the Shimmer makes to create things, and remind her of things she regrets in her past. Why the Shimmer does is not answered beyond it can refract DNA, and maybe read people’s subconscious, or mind. That last part is never confirmed. Instead of being mysterious you’ll be confused by why the story takes the direction it does.

Lena character is the only one in the movie that gets fleshed out properly, and it still finds a way to ruin that. She has a destructive behavior ruining her perfect looking marriage, and exploring Lena’s guilty conscious is the only thing the movie has to make anything compelling out of. Sadly, it’s all written, and expressed in a emotionless way devaluing any emotionally resonate this storyline could of had. The writing wants you to sympathize with her as a tragic character, and sadly it doesn’t work when everything is portrayed in a cold, disinterested manner. Detaching the emotion from the idea so to speak.

I’m willing to suspend my disbelief in movies, but the internal logic has to function properly either by the genre it’s most bound by, or the logic within the world it takes place in. Already having establish the world mostly resemble ours lets go over the major oversights. Starting with the obvious if its establish every team who explore the Shimmer has died with the only person to have return coughing up blood, and now quarantine. You would think with this ever expanding mysterious field taking the lives of several trained military personnel that the government would make sure nothing from the Shimmer makes its way into any public area! On top of that, the military evacuated the public from this area under the pretense of a chemical spill. Within three years no one in Maryland (where Blackwater National Park is located) suspected there was something fishy going on. Everyone just believes it’s a chemical spill.

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They look like people? Nah, must imagining things.

The biggest oversight is something that shouldn’t have been overlooked in the first place. So when the only survivor from the Shimmer is placed in a quarantined area, and people wearing hazmat suit implies that survivor is contagious. Except when Lena (and possibly dozens of other) team goes to explore inside the Shimmer without any sort of protection. More questionable is the survivor made it into a public area so who knows how many people the survivor possibly infected. Maybe none since the movie is very selective on how science works. It’s almost as baffling as not having military trained personals besides Lena joining her team of scientists. With the stated gravity of this Shimmer expanding, and possibly destroying life the government sure are some serious cheapskates, or this military just have people who are complacent about all life possibly being killed by this ever expanding mysterious field!

Once the team actually gets inside the Shimmer it’s even slower moving than it was before. The opening sequence does the Shimmer investigation a disservice by revealing who survives, and briefly establishing the fate of the other team members. With that in mind you’ll just be waiting for them to slowly get killed off. There’s a scene at a military base at night time, and all the characters are taking turns guarding the team sleeping in the lookout tower. They decide to have someone on guard hundreds of feet away from the lookout tower they are sleeping in. With a stairway leading up to the sleeping team members being unprotected they intentionally placed themselves in even more danger for no reason. They have night vision goggles, and a lookout tower that’ll give them a broader view of the area if they guard the stairway. I would worry about them, but when they can’t see a giant mutated bear point blank in front them is about the point I gave up on them! Granted this happens at night time; however, the person who gets attacked is right next to the other members of the team when she gets attacked by a giant mutated bear. Oh yeah, can’t forget to mention everyone on Lena’s team we follow are some sort of scientists. I can’t buy into that when they’re hardly seen taking notes insider the shimmer.

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Perfectly describes this move in a single sentence

Without spoiling any specifics the climax resolution is sure to make your IQ drop to double digits. This is because of how easily the Shimmer itself, and everything it created gets destroyed in the film. Making it laughable that the first teams who explored the Shimmer when it was just in inside the lighthouse didn’t bother using any sort of flammable weapons to destroy it. Then comes the ending which takes it sweet time getting too. The climax which takes place in the lighthouse where the Shimmer originated goes on for too long. All that happens is Lena gets some vague answers leading to a name drop, a grenade like weapon pin gets pulled, and conflict resolved. This all takes longer than it should play out. Padding the sequence by having Lena slowly move around the lighthouse. Once the final shot of the movie cut to black I stopped caring about the fate of humanity in this film. If it was that easy for them to eliminate the threat, and the fact these stupid characters are the ones that did it is quite the feat it pulled off in dumb writing.

Annihilation is written, and directed by Alex Garland. I already bashed his poor writing skills on the story front, but as a director he doesn’t know how to give his actors good direction. The only one who manages to pull of anything well is Natalie Portman. She takes a broken character, and subtly displays constant self doubt in her. When she sounds detach speaking about herself, or her husband it come off naturally for the character to be speaking that way. Her co-stars on the other hand have a leash around them preventing them from showing too much emotions. Jennifer Jason Leigh suffers the most from this looking bored in several scenes. Garland, for some reason, wrote her a character who doesn’t display much emotion in the first place. So when Jennifer Leight is suppose to start losing it she acts no differently from when she was sane. The muted colors don’t help either, but having everything be so detached from emotion when you’re attempting to be psychological is counter intuitive.

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Only one thing could have done this. Man Bear Pig!

So without expressive actors the only other way Alex Garland tries to keep his audiences awake are through the brief moments of blood, and gore. One scene involving Oscar Isaac cutting through a soldier stomach with a knife has some convincing practical effects. It then gets ruined by fake looking CGI intestines. In general, the special effects are pretty good, especially the gore. There’s also another scene where a mutated bear attacks our tied up team in a house. The audio is so badly distorted that Garland to advise his actor to spell it out for the audience one of the team members mutated. Not only that, but this sequence involving the mutated team member in a house is pretty lame. When all it takes is a single clip from automatic gun to the head to kill a mutated bear how is there supposed to be tension. If the Shimmer distorts DNA, and this is the worse in terms of dangerous distorted lifeforms the team is going to be alright.

Annihilation is a hallow film detached from anything resembling human empathy. Attempting to have a broad psychological scope gets derails quickly through stupid writing, dumb characters, and a disinterested visionary. When you write a scene involving a team of scientists traveling by boat through a swamp after being attacked by a mutated alligator, you need to go back to the drawing board, and spend time tweaking around with simple logic before tackling anything complex. Alex Garland had good ideas, and a good cast to pull off something good, but it’s all goes to waste in this misfire effort.

Rating: 3/10

Cinema-Maniac: Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

If you enjoy watching animation of any kind you’ll eventually come across a debate of people arguing what’s most important in animation. Typically you’ll have one person saying that writing is more important than animation, and another person saying animation is more important. A common debate I ignore simply for the fact that storytelling is a balancing act of both writing, and visuals. Undermining the importance of either by placing greater importance on one trait is something I go against. For me, it’s typically about the execution itself more so than the individual parts. There might be weaknesses in the creation of any media, but by the end of it how well it was done matters more to me. Today’s movie is undoubtedly a case of style over substance offering nothing new in its storytelling, but still provides something worth checking out, in particular its animation.

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Sit down boy for I have a story as old as me.

Kubo and the Two Strings follows the title character, a young boy named Kubo (Art Parkinson) who must locate a magical suit of armor worn by his late father in order to defeat a vengeful spirit from the past. Fantasy anything love to use the classic trope of collecting three of mystical items during your journey to vanquish great evil. This is set up through a fictional story that Kubo tells the towns folk pretty early on in the movie. Not deviating from that path for part of it detriment. Creating the biggest issue of predictability. Unfortunately Kubo’s mother is to blame for this mcguffin sharing her story with Kubo, and in turn the movie dedicating an entire sequence to showing the audience what happens on the eventual journey Kubo takes.

The story told here doesn’t offer anything new, and still acts like it does. There’s a obvious plot twist regarding the true identity of two other characters who join Kubo on his journey. This plot twist wouldn’t be so predictable to see coming if the film actually bother having more important characters to throw you off. I would have personally just made the mystical charm protector Monkey (Charlize Theron) protector, and a amnesiac samurai Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) be different characters instead of what the movie actually did. Something else the movie does in raging success is removing any sense of adventure. Everything just feels like it all falls into place for Kubo, and due to the quick pacing there’s no sense of accomplishment garner from the journey.

Another disservice that comes with staying within the story path is alluding to more complex ideas, but keeping them simplistic. The backstory behind how Kubo parents met implies Kubo is hiding from a much greater role that his mother didn’t tell him about. However, instead delving into the details of what that could be the movie just moves on. It does this for a number of things choosing to entertain a younger audience without trusting them to handle something complex. None of this is better exemplify than the false threat that are referred to as the Sisters; who are basically supernatural like entity related to Kubo mother who goals are to kill the mother, and take Kubo. Aside from the obligatory first, and final encounter with Kubo group the Sisters are non threatening. If the Sisters were human it would be reasonable why they are always behind Kubo, and his group, but dedicating dialogue to bluntly tell the audience they don’t need to sleep, or eat brings it up the forefront of how lacking in stakes the film has overall.

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Even against a giant skeleton, no there’s no feeling of stakes.

What suffers the most from the overly simplistic writing is the villain motivation being all over the place. It’s revealed early on that the villain wants Kubo eye, but for what exactly is left unanswered. Covering the lack of sensible motivation under an idealistic fight of embracing emotions, or detaching oneself from it. The last thing I would criticize is something crucial to the movie, and that is the lack of conflict between the characters. Kubo, Monkey, and Beetle get along just fine with little arguments between each other. Without much of a conflict to overcome from each other while working together there’s no sense that the group learned to cooperate together. So when the eventual reveal of Beetle, and Monkey identities happen it doesn’t feel like the group is united through organic means.

You’ll see every plot point coming before it happens, but the good thing are the characters at fleshed out. They never become engaging characters because the movie tells you their fates ahead of time. Leaving no room to fear for their life. Everything else surrounding these characters is interesting, especially their past. While I complained about the structure of the story there’s the compliment everything played out naturally, and was foreshadowed properly. No resolution in the movie feels convoluted because of it. Another good choice in the writing was to not take itself too seriously. Understanding this kind story has been done to death it does it best to be fun before it eventually has to get serious towards the climax. It doesn’t sugarcoat anything it tackles in the story. Never reaching the poignant stage it wants everything that should function in the story works like it should.

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Look at that animation. So smooth!

Easily the best part of Kubo and the Two Strings is the stop motion animation done by Laika studio. Everything is nicely detailed, and moved very smoothly. My favorite moment in the movie is easily the scene where Kubo uses origami paper to tell a story to the town folk. The origami paper is able to shift into different complex shapes leading to impressive visuals. You’ll both awed by how visually creative it is, and be wondering how did Laika studio pull it off. Being in doubt inspired by Eastern culture you’ll see certain designs in buildings, and clothing that are distinctively Japanese. With the story granting Laika the opportunity to create a number of different landscapes they take full advantage of it. They don’t forget the small details either like animating Monkey fur blow in the wind in several scenes.

The best sequence that shows off Laika animation talent is a sequence that takes place in a cave. Kubo, Monkey, and Beetle basically fight against a giant walking skeleton while looking for a sword. This sequence is quite daunting to imagine animating because the skeleton is larger with bigger body pieces, and almost all of them have to be moved individually to look smoothly animated. Not to forget having to animate the actual smaller characters while the giant skeleton is moving. Once there’s dozen of smaller pieces crumbling from the ceiling does the sight of several dozen moving pieces make you realize what a nightmare it must have been to do all this with stop motion animation, and impressive feat the sequence it was accomplished. There’s also another brief sequence where Kubo uses origami papers to make dozen of paper birds fly. While smaller in scale it’s still feast for the eyes. Of course, can’t for forget about the surprisingly good lighting in the movie, and even using shadowing effects to properly get it right. Putting plenty of efforts in the animation it makes a predictable story at least visually interesting.

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The origami animation in this movie is terrific. 

The voice has a good cast with the likes of Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Rooney Mara, George Takei (in a bit role), and Ralph Fiennes being the big names of the cast. Each of them do a good job in their roles, though the number of big names is more impressive than their actual performances. Charlize Theron is the caring mother, Matthew McConaughey is the comedic relief, Rooney Mara is adversary, and Ralph Fiennes the imposing villain. From this list Theron comes out the best creating very sympathetic character. When she says something caring she feel genuine in expressing that through her line delivery.

Art Parkinson who plays the title character of Kubo I would give the biggest round of applause too. Being the youngest in the cast (14 around the time of the movie release) he handles himself well in the role like he’s been voice acting his whole life. He hits all the right notes every time regardless of the scene he’s. Finding the right balance of portraying his young character without ever making Kubo come off as pouty, annoying, or a too much of a cry baby. Parkinson best moments comes when he’s alone expressing the lost he feels in certain scenes. If he decides to, Art Parkinson can have a great career in voice acting.

Kubo, and the Two Strings is a standard movie elevated by stellar animation. You might have seen the story a dozen time, but never quite through the visual flourish provided by Laika stop motion animation. There’s not much to look into on the story front, but on a technical level there’s a lot admire.

Rating: 7/10

Cinema-Maniac: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

Before the release of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol in 2011, I knew no one in any online film community, or offline who even had the faintest interest in the Mission: Impossible franchise like I did. So you could imagine my surprise when the forth entry was released, and for the first time I came across people who also enjoy the series like I did. Ghost Protocol marked a turning point in the Mission: Impossible series that imbued viewer confidence in Brad Bird being just as capable in the realm of live action filmmaking as he in animation. Currently being the highest grossing entry in the franchise. This entry also rejuvenated fans interest in the franchise, and garnered a slew of new fans through word of mouth. Why wouldn’t people talk about this movie, it’s a blast to watch.

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Your mission. If you choose to accept it. Is to continue reading.

 

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol has Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), and the entire IMF implicated in the bombing of the Kremlin. Now it’s up to Ethan Hunt, and his rouge team to clear their organization name. Playing within the expectation of the series establish formula it makes further refinement to it. For starter, the fact that Ethan Hunt is once again disavowed from the IMF isn’t eye rolling. Providing that plot point in a refreshing way. Second improvement would be the storytelling placing greater emphasis on the team. Being the first in the series to acknowledge, and treat all of Hunt’s team members as equals to him. Weaving a story that’s able to tackle the conflict of the team learning to work together in a simplistic, effective manner.

Third improvement would be intelligently working around Ethan Hunt doing field work despite being married in the previous movie. Being able to address this plot point without juxtaposition in Ghost Protocol intention of being a fun blockbuster driven by big set pieces, and entertaining character interactions. Fourth improvement would be this installment is comfortable with incorporating more hi-tech gadgets for the team to use. You have the return of the face mask which graciously is only used twice, but also electronic gloves that can attach to any surface, a device that can suck up concrete with ease, a contact lense that can do face recognition, and a few others devices.

A nice change up in the writing is the pacing is consistent throughout. Being brisk without giving up the finer details in its story. The biggest improvement to the series is easily the team dynamics, and the banter between them. Keeping events engaging more than ever before when there isn’t an action scene on screen. Characters play off each other really well with each one getting a chance to shine. Each member of Ethan Hunt team is also given their own arcs reaching a satisfying conclusion, and nicely developed to stay invested with the situations they get themselves into. In addition to that, they also show traits of having their own personality standing out from one another. Benji (Simon Pegg) role gets greatly expanded upon. Adding more to his character, and not relegating him to solely being the comedic relief as the other characters also have funny lines. All the while being capable of being taken dramatically seriously without breaking the tone of being an enjoyable blockbuster.

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Renner has to be the bearer of bad news telling Paula Cotton she’s not in the next movie.

One new thing that Ghost Protocol introduce is finally giving Ethan Hunt some proper continuity that he needed. No longer does he feel like a rewritten character. A welcome change to witness Ethan Hunt receive some proper growth. Showing for the first time the toll in being the IMF has on his personal life. Without over blowing it, displays the sacrifices he has to make in his personal life for the greater good. Another nice welcome is continuing to balance Ethan’s brawn with his brain. Finding a proper way to show him be vulnerable, but a very capable agent. Favoring a new way to have tension through the near failures of some of his operation over being on the verge of death. For once, Ethan Hunt gratitude, and commaraderie towards the team feels genuine.

 

The weakest part of the movie is easily Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist) the film’s villain. He is treated like a mcguffin, and magically appears wherever, and whenever the movie needs him be. Lacking the intimidation factor, even if he gives Ethan Hunt a challenge mentally, and physically. His biggest issue is that most of his characterization is chalked up to just being psycho. If the film didn’t attempt to give some complexity through his motivation than the whole mentally unstable personality would have worked. Hendricks motivation implies there’s much more to the character the film only briefly touches on. Feeling like a non-entity of a villain. Further brought up to your attention when someone else Hunt’s team is after had more of an personal impact on them than Hendricks did.

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Not the only time Tom Cruise running is meant to look epic.

Tom Cruise in this installment is mostly playful, but not to the point of absurdity. Showing off more of his comedic timing, and charm than in previous outing. Not only that, but also gets some dramatic scenes, and knocks them out of the park. When you give Cruise material that provides range he’ll deliver. On top of another good performance he’s still does the superhuman like stunt work; like the stunt he performed in Dubai hanging over 1000 feet from the ground on the side of a hotel. It looks absolutely stunning, and seeing Cruise perform the stunt makes you further believe in him as Ethan Hunt. He always proven he’s dedicated to playing Ethan Hunt in every minute of any Mission: Impossible movie. Also, this entry has the most epic looking running Tom Cruise has done in his career.

Simon Pegg reprises his role as Benji to larger role much to the benefit of the film. Being instantly likable through his through his impeccable timing on his jokes. However, Pegg also shows a good amount of restraint preventing him from going into goofball territory. On the plus side, his portrayal of Benji makes it easy to accept him as a IMF agent. Paula Cotton is another nice addition to the film. She picks up the dramatic weight alongside Jeremy Renner. Looking convincing in her action sequences, and showing the right amount of toughness, and vulnerability. Jeremy Renner first entry into the installment also makes him a mainstay. He’s so natural alongside Simon Pegg, and Tom Cruise is easy to see why he was kept on. All the cast members have chemistry with each other holding the film up together when separated from Cruise in a scene. Something that previous entries struggle with.

Lea Seydoux plays an assassin with little lines, but her good looks, and cold presence is easy to take notice of. Then finally there’s Michael Nyqvist who plays the villian. He does fine in the role, but isn’t intimidating in the least. Nyqvist also doesn’t come across as much of a psycho, but when granted the chance to speak he fares better. Unfortunately Nyqvist, and Cruise don’t talk much to each other removing that sense of pure hatred that Philip Seymour Hoffman brought with him. To Michael Nyqvist credit does make an effort to make the villain look, and act like any other normal person. Lastly, Ving Rhames makes a cameo in the film. It’s a shame he wasn’t in the movie very long, but it’s nice that the film didn’t forget about him either. While I’m at it, Michelle Monaghan also makes a brief appearance. More bonus points for fans for the series.

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My favorite action scene in this movie.

Brad Bird changes up the gunplay from MI3 in favor of hand to hand combat. Preferring to take the route of being inventive over complexity. Resulting in a slew of stellar pieces. Easily the one that everyone who sees this film talks about is when Cruise hangs on the side of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai over 1000 feet from the ground. During this sequence Brad Bird expertly knows how to set up the sandstorm to use in a later action sequence. As Tom Cruise climbs the Burj Khalifa, Bird always ensure to use the reflection on the Burj Khalifa to remind audience how high up Cruise is. Through the simple methods of zooming out, overhead shots, and wide shots Brad Bird gets the most out of this sequence in a visually stunning way that could also be nail biting through some masterful editing.

Also taking place in Dubai, another noteworthy set piece is a car chase where Cruise chases Nyqvist. Despite obvious usage of CGI for the sandstorm a majority of the sequence is done practically. Being far from your standard chase sequence it starts off on foot before eventually ending up at the point where a car goes up in the air after a crash, and nearly hits Cruise. The events in between uses the sandstorm to the environment, and vehicles hard to spot. Using this blurriness to keep viewers uncertain if anything else is going to harm Cruise. There’s another clever sequence in the vaults of the Kremlin Archives in which a virtual reality illusion is used to fool a guard.

Easily my favorite action sequence comes during the climax where Tom Cruise fights against Michael Nyqvist in a space age looking park with elevators. Both men fight to obtain a briefcase with both Cruise, and Nyqvist fighting on equal footing with their surrounding constantly moving around, and complicating things for both. During the fight sequence, both man land on a platform with Nyqvist holding the briefcase while a car is behind Cruise slowly moving on the platform. In this moment, Nyqvist gets the advantage, Cruise gets his left leg seriously hurt when he’s pull of a counter maneuver putting Nyqvist on the floor, Cruise left leg gets stuck with the briefcase in arms reach, Nyqvist kicks the briefcase below the car, Cruise jumps over the car, and lands on the other side of the platform with the car moving a lower level preventing Cruise from grabbing the briefcase. This is just a small example how inventive the fight goes of it way from being a simple fist fight.

Aside from the action scenes, Brad Bird also creates an opening sequence similar to the first entry showing snippets of the movie you’re about to see. It’s something insignificant in the overall film, but it’s nice seeing it return. Michael Giacchino returns to to compose score for Ghost Protocol. Being an improvement over his work on Mission: Impossible 3. The soundtrack has more of presence adding to the excitement, and setting the appropriate dramatic mood when needed. Finally, it’s so nice to hear the return of “Light the Fuse” (the name of the Mission: Impossible theme song) from Lalo Schifrin, and not have it be altered in any way. It was missed, but thankfully it gloriously returned.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol makes even further refinement to the series formula, and taking it to greater heights both literally, and figuratively. Offering sheer entertainment in the form of spectacular set pieces brought to together by great writing. It delivers everything you want in a blockbuster without being dumb, or loud, but instead being smartly crafted, and expertly put together. Like all the previous installments, there’s a lot going against it, but the series willingness to take risk always pays off, and here it’s no different.

Rating: 9/10

Cinema-Manaic: Voice Without a Shadow (1958)

Regardless of the medium, mystery/pot boilers centered stories I don’t check out frequently. When I think of a mystery story I think about someone trying to solve a crime, or find answer to an unexplained incident. For me, they all feel like they play out the same in the general way; main characters attempt to look for answers, eventually hit a dead end until finding the one clue that brings everything together, and finally explaining to the viewer how it worked out. Usually having me forget about its characters the next day.  Movies like these I get the appeal, but if I’m not going to get engaging characters than everything else surrounding them has to make up for it. Voice Without A Shadow does exactly that, even if it’s nothing outstanding by the end of it.

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Reporter Notes: There was a murder at the crime scene, and someone is responsible.

Voice Without A Shadow starts out unconventional before becoming formulaic with its storytelling. You’re introduce to Asako Takahashi (Yoko Minamida), a telephone operator who who dials the wrong number one night, and hears the voice of a murderer. You would be wrong to assume that Asako would be the focus, and the rest of the movie would be her trying to help the police find the killer with her unmatched hearing. Stated in the movie to be able to differentiate, and recognize hundreds of different voices like no other person. The initial setup is fascinating using sound in a technical aspect to enhance put us in the same position as Asako. Making certain everyday activity sound louder to Asako, and in turn the audience watching. Unfortunately there is a time skip to three years later where we’re told the case has gone cold. This occurs in the first few minutes where it eventually takes another turn to where Asako does little in the effort to prove her husband’s innocence in a murder that transpired.

 

Within the first act of the movie, twice it does away with the initial setup before falling in the familiar territory of a pot boiler mystery. Towards the end of the first act newspaper journalist Hiroshi Ishikawa (Hideaki Nitani) who might as well be a detective since that his purpose in the movie. Putting the actual police force to shame when he’s able to put clues together that the police force overlooked. Something as simple like a bag being dry on the day it was found when the day before it was raining is one of many simple details the police force don’t think about. There is one detail in particular that is outrageous that the police force didn’t even considered. Without spoiling the actual movie, it would basically be the equivalent of someone filming a murder scene, and the police having to be told by someone outside the force the camera can record things, and therefore must have recorded the murder. This movie does the Japanese police force no favors in making them out to look incompetent at their jobs.

Shifting the focus to Ishikawa means you get the familiar routine of him interviewing people on the night of the crime, being at his wits end trying to solve the murder, having a near death encounter the closer he gets to solving the crime, and getting the one clue he needs to piece everything together. When in this state the movie plays out mechanically safe to fall into your expectations. Doing so by sharing a understanding why a familiar formula is so effective even after hundreds of usage. It’s biggest bright spot in this routine are the dead ends Ishikawa comes across during the case. They’re presented in a logical way with some detail that makes the case itself more complicated than it appears. Every time Ishikawa believes he got a lead there’s something that pushes him back further from finding any answers. Leading to many good head scratcher moments when attempting to solve the case alongside Ishikawa.

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Even in a still image, Jo Shishido character is still hateable

My biggest issue with the movie is the lack of depth to the characters. They’re treated more like plot devices which means generally delivering expository dialogue after expository dialogue. Showing very little personality in its writing. At it best, the character writing is great when characters are talking about their past, and the rare comments about love. Ishikawa is the most interesting of the cast of characters with a colleague of his wondering why he’s solving a mystery for woman he knows won’t love him back. These moments when the characters don’t talk about the murder case are a highlight since they don’t happen often. Ishikawa gets delved into a fair amount showing his dedication to journalism, and seeking the truth. Being the only one in the cast to come out unscathed from the writing other issues.

 

There’s a good attempt to present some complexity to some of the suspects, but it sadly goes into the “we’re bad” category of writing eventually. A shame too since the movie does a good job not making the suspects obvious to Ishikawa even though the audience knows a bit more than he does. Asako side of the story attempts to create some paranoia through the usage of sound whenever she’s relevant. It doesn’t quite work like the writing intended because at random points it’ll switch characters perspective. Leaving little time for any paranoia to creep in. Once it finally comes together at the end the viewing experience is made worthwhile. What few character arcs it actually have reach satisfying conclusions. The answers to the mystery itself are mostly logical, and seeing the case itself being solved it a high point itself. Executing the familiar elements of a mystery just right to leave a positive impression.

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(Not) Very subtle with the devil mask

Taking the charge for most of the movie is Hideaki Nitani. His biggest hurdle is the dialogue he’s given. Being unable to make it sound natural, but he does a decent delivery job delivering it. Nitani best moments of acting are surprisingly the sparse instances where the camera closes up on his face, and is able to express an array of emotions within his character. These more quieter moments displays greater potential in his acting abilities. Yoko Minamida is the standout in the cast. Despite the film minimizing her role the longer it goes she elevates whatever scene she’s in. Perfectly getting across the fear, and turmoil her character struggles through. Jo Shishido makes an appearance in a small role as a sleazy businessman. Give whatever character you want to Jo Shishido, and he’ll find a way to play the character naturally. Suitably obnoxious, and hateable he eases his way in a simple role. He ain’t in the film for much of it, but he will leave an impression. Toshio Takahara is mostly made out to be pathetic, but sympathetic at the same time. Sadly, he’s not given much to do beside look worried. The actors who play the suspects are good in their small roles with some able to make an impression.

 

Director Seijun Suzuki doesn’t spice things up in terms of writing, but on the technical side shows restraint in his style, and eagerness to make the most out of a scene visuals. One of these includes having an entire flashback sequence being entirely filmed in dutch angles. Creating a distorted look to the film in this sequence. Another stylistic choice are involves moments when it’s in first person, and appearing as if the characters are talking directly into the camera. It also briefly uses some tracking shots as well to set the mood accordingly. In one scene, Suzuki faintly has a shot of Yoko Minamida trying to sleep, and faintly faded visuals of her co-stars playing mahjong in the scene, and playing around with the audio to make the noticeable noise of mahjong moving around be become loud. Stylistic choices like these prevent the movie from being visually mundane.  Music is fine, but nothing memorable. It sounds like a dozen other pot boiler mystery movie score.

Voice Without A Shadow represents the general appeal of a pot boiler mystery, and also the lack of investment towards the characters involved. It might play things safe for a majority of its run time, but there is effort to make something good out of it. It succeeds more than it fails playing into your expectations. 

Rating: 7/10

Cinema-Maniac: Mission: Impossible III (2006)

Mission: Impossible 3 would mark the feature film debut of J.J. Abrams whom before this point worked on the small screen on series like Alias, and Lost. The former of which Tom Cruise binged watch, and made him offer the directing gig to him. Given the generally mix reaction of Mission: Impossible 2 (2000) would explain the six year wait between sequels, but the profit gained from MI 2 also ensured another installment in the franchise was always possible. Perhaps the most interesting tidbit of this third outing is David Fincher almost directed the movie. However, he dropped out over creative differences. Like other before him, J.J. Abrams takes the mantle of the franchise providing his own spin on it exceeding where the two previous directors failed before him. Offering a story that will satisfy fans of the original, and providing blockbuster spectacles fans of the second outing expect into this entry.

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It’s time to come clean Hunt. Who’s Nyah?

Mission: Impossible 3 puts agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) into conflict with Owen Davian, a dangerous and sadistic arms dealer who threatens Hunt’s life and his fiancee in response. It might have taken three films, but here is where the series finally hit the mark on balancing its tone. Being neither too serious, or too over the top. Starting out strong with a great opening sequence that perfectly set up the stakes as well as serve as flash forward to were the viewer will eventually end up at. It’s a great hook that immediately gets the audience attention. Everything else that precedes the opening sequence does a fine job in the keep the viewer invested in showing Ethan Hunt personal life, banter between the team, some levity to prevent from being too serious, and some eventual mind games between our hero, and the villain. All this is done in its fast pace that never lingers too much on any scene. Being very streamlined in its storytelling while properly spacing out the action sequences infuse in itself as a blockbuster.

Another balance in the film is the handling of Ethan Hunt character. Making full use of not only his physical abilities, but also his intelligence in quickly thinking of a way out of a dangerous situation. Showing the audience him thinking on the spot to pull off a difficult task. Retaining his experience from the previous movie Ethan Hunt is still capable on the field, but you won’t see Hunt doing back flip kicks, or dodging bullets by taking cover on the side of his high speeding motorcycle with arm goons right behind him. With the addition of having someone to lose there’s a semblance of weight that returns to Ethan Hunt. Now that you know he has something to lose it makes those set pieces more engaging. A personal bonus I would say is the dialogue is a nice fusion of the serious story of the first one with a more tone nature of dialogue from the second film. Offering some memorable lines like the ones below to provide a few examples. Needless to say, the dialogue is on point.

Brassel: You can look at me with those judgmental eyes all you want, but I bullshit you not, I will bleed on the American flag to make sure those stripes stay red.

Luther: Look, I don’t mean to cross the line here, but was there something going on between you two? You and Lindsey?

Ethan: Lindsey was like my little sister.

Luther: And you’ve…never slept with your little sister? [Ethan stares at him again] Look brother, if I don’t ask you, who would?

Lindsey: I’m out, how many rounds have you got?

Ethan: [Checking his magazine] Enough.

[Ethan jumps out and fires in slow motion, killing the henchman with a single shot]

Ethan: [tosses the gun away] Now I’m out.

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Cruise keeps going, and going, and going….

The team dynamic is greatly improved from the previous entries. Hunt’s teammates are given roles in the operations with greater importance. Being more active in performing on the field, even computer expert Luther (Ving Rhames) becomes more of a active participant in the operations than he did before. Luther expanded role in this third outing works in favor for the film. Providing not only a character Hunt can open up to, but also provide levity to the story without coming across as a rewritten character. Most important of all, Luther gets the characterization he deserves finally given viewer more to his character. Instantly making Luther the most fleshed out recurring character in the series.

While the effort to humanize Ethan Hunt is admirable it also suffers the same issue that Mission: Impossible 2 suffered from; Ethan Hunt settling down with a wife comes across as rewriting the character instead of a natural change. There are a few scenes between Luther, and Ethan Hunt talking about their love life that try to remedy this. Luther provides insight on his failed relationship while not forgetting to mention why it likely won’t last. Hunt other team members tell him the same, but not quite as much as Luther does. This change doesn’t entirely work since Ethan Hunt is hardly shown being with his fiancee making the romance feel less genuine, and Hunts motivation to go back on active duty for the IMF is kept on a surface level. A person vendetta is enough to carry him, but not enough to justify why Hunt would actively put himself in riskier situations considering he loves that Julia reminds him of a life before IMF. In two instances, the movie overlooks details in order for the story to progress, and not come to a halt. Resulting in one escape sequence making you wonder how this voice changer was able to copy someone else’s voice so quickly when in a operation it took minutes to prepare. There’s also an operation in Shanghai which instead of seeing first hand will only witness the end result.

There’s also the return of a plot twist from the first movie, and it’s not the face mask usage that is the twist. It involves there being a traitor within IMF (again) which would have worked if the story better foreshadowed the twist. When the traitor is revealed, who it turns to be comes across convoluted within a film that is more narratively coherent than it predecessors. There’s also two new team members introduce in this movie, but unlike Luther, or Benji (Simon Pegg) who both manage to leave an impression despite their screen time the first time they appeared on screen. Declan Gormley (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), and Zhen Lei (Maggie Q) don’t offer anything in the way of personalities. They simply go onboard with what Ethan, or the story says. Coming off as mechanical when movie tries to hint at some intimacy between Zhen, and Gormley. With the already mentioned of the mole in IMF being reused also expect disavowed agent Ethan Hunt, and saving the world last minute, but they remain a stable in the series, and reuse in later installments. So me criticizing part three for these conventions would be unfair, but everything else around these plot points is fair game. Especially the happy ending that attempts to overlook the fact that Hunt’s wife is just cool learning about her husband secret.

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Helicopter flying through flames. Pretty cool in my book

Tom Cruise delivers his best performance in the franchise in this outing finally giving Cruise the perfect material that offered him plenty of range missing from the previous two movies. Providing plenty of scenes where Tom Cruise gets to show Ethan Hunt more vulnerable side. In particular, his sequences with Michelle Monaghan you get to see Cruise at his more vulnerable, and most uncertain than he ever portrayed Ethan Hunt. It’s this reason the opening sequence has the great hook that it does. When carrying the weight on the drama Cruise delivers some great comedic banter between his co-stars. Delivering his comedic lines perfectly with his reactions. He also gets some great one liners, and he delivers making them sound cool, even if they are cheesy. As with the previous installment, when it comes to the action sequence Cruise looks just performing them as he is in the acting department. Yes, like in all his movies, you will eventually get to see a long take of Tom Cruise running in the movie. Very few actors can make running look as good as Tom Cruise.

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the film villain, and hands down is the best actor who played a villian in the Mission Impossible franchise. He is everything you want in a good villain; snarky, ruthless, and all around intimidating in his delivery despite his appearance. The intensity in the scenes between Hoffman, and Cruise are the best bits of acting this series will provide. Just witnessing the two of them be able to deliver intensity into the movie in a matter of seconds is a sight to behold. Easily being the most memorable villain on just Hoffman acting abilities alone.

Ving Rhames role is graciously expanded upon. Proving reliable, like he has before, of being able to deliver comic relief just fine. Rhames is just a joy to see on screen. Simon Pegg who eventually becomes a mainstay makes his first appearance here, but has very little screen time. Like Ving Rhames before him in the first entry, Simon Pegg is able to make an impression, and feel like a natural fit in the series. His smooth delivery of his comedic lines, and making expository dialogue fun to listen through his energy is why he stayed around. Michelle Monaghan does mostly play a supportive role in the emotional sense, but does get to perform in the action in the climax. Her character doesn’t offer her much to do, but she makes it work.

Laurence Fishburne, and Billy Crudup also make appearances in the film in supporting roles. Fishburne comes out looking good in the movie, somehow making his wholly serious portrayal work even he’s poking fun of the other co-stars. Billy Crudup is also good, until the climax where he becomes hammy. Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Maggie Q on the other hand are the weakest link in the cast. Neither of them try to provide their characters with any sort of personality. Making them come off as bland.

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This is fantastic scene in the movie. Easily a highlight

J.J. Abrams helming the results in action sequences in that movie lack complexity in their choreography, but more than makes up for it in other areas. For starter, there’s a lot more stunt work involved in the sequences. In my favorite moment of the movie you Tom Cruise hanging from the side of a car trying to shoot vehicle pursuing him, and his team. Resulting in the vehicle crashing into a truck. In another moment, Tom Cruise character only has a single bullet left in the chamber of his gun, shoots a person, and they fall out of window. Small instance of stunt work like these make the action sequence appear more eventful. Doing as much as possible to minimize the usage of CGI. There’s some shaky cam involve, but nothing to outrageous. However, there are the rare occasion where the camera visibly is readjusted to get the frame of the shot right.

The film’s first big set piece in a factory that moves to a helicopter chase sequence escalate things in a manner. Abrams always keep the audience inform in spite of the chaos of endless gunfire that follows. Keeping things simple enough to follow. As the film progresses, Abram is able to keep the action set pieces large in scale. There’s a fantastic sequence on a bridge that shows Abram ability to get inventive in isolated location. Unfortunately, when it comes time to finally have the climax it’s the film smallest set piece. Abrams tries to remedy this by having Tom Cruise get tossed around the set, and having break many props in the process. In terms of scale, it’s small fry compare to what came before it.

Michael Giacchino takes care of composing duty, and his original music works for the scene they’re used. It’s unlikely you’ll remember a single track from the movie that isn’t “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge. Finally, yes this the last thing I’ll mention promise before ending this review. There’s a song called “Impossible” by Kanye West featuring Twista and Keyshia Cole which is an improvement over Limp Bizkit, but is also forgettable. That’s probably the reason why it wasn’t used in the opening credit sequence.

Mission: Impossible 3 successfully combines elements from it predecessors into a entertaining third outing. Providing a good story, great performances from lead actor Tom Cruise, and giving him a great villain to play of in Philip Seymour Hoffman, and delivering on its action set pieces. It’s a great action blockbuster that gives you what you expect, and a little bit more.

Rating: 8/10