The Mission: Impossible franchise has been one of the best in the spy genre for over twenty years. From Ethan Hunt dangling from a wire in the 1996 film to hanging from the Burj Khalifa in Dubai for 2011’s Ghost Protocol, the character has given us some of the most intense and jaw dropping action sequences in the genre. And just when I thought Tom Cruise’s stunts couldn’t get more outrageous… he ups the ante like never before for Mission: Impossible Fallout.
Fallout begins by placing IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his usual allies Benji (Simon Pegg), and Luther (Ving Rhames) on a mission to keep the last remnants of the terrorist organization, The Sindicate, from getting plutonium for nuclear weapons. When Hunt is forced to give up the plutonium for his friend’s life, the head of the IMF (Alec Baldwin), sends his team on a mission to meet with a shady arms dealer (Vanessa Kirby), in hopes of extracting and interrogating the leader of the Sindicate, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). But Hunt and his team aren’t alone this time. Determined to fix Hunt’s mistake, CIA head Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) sends her top agent August Walker (Henry Cavill) along for the ride.
The story can certainly get convoluted at times, especially for anyone who isn’t familiar with the franchise. It also doesn’t help that not all of the plot twists land. But story isn’t as important to these films as the obstacles for the protagonist. And Fallout has plenty of obstacles for Ethan Hunt. Tom Cruise brings his all and seems to operate with the sole mission to bring more incredible stunts to Fallout than any action film that came before it. And he absolutely succeeds. There is hardly a dull moment, with each action sequence bringing vigor whether it be via stakes or the captivating camera angles.
Director Christopher McQuarrie also manages to bring the same touch of character charm that was felt in Rogue Nation. It helps that Fallout brings back its best character from its predecessor. Rebecca Ferguson’s returns as the English double agent, Ilsa, with the same stunning femme fatale energy. The supporting characters, both old and new, all bring charisma and well timed comedic flare. Combining that with the sheer passionate, recklessness of both Tom Cruise and his character, means that while there might be better spy films and perhaps smarter Mission: Impossible movies, you’d be hard pressed to find one more entertaining than Fallout.
FINAL GRADE: A
Musicals aren’t for everyone. But I’ve been a fan of the genre since my younger days of watching Disney animated films on repeat. Great music can make a good film even greater, adding emotion and a little flare to what might normally be a bland story. The Greatest Showman, directed by newcomer Matt Gracey, features original music written by the minds behind 2016 musical hit, La La Land.
Hugh Jackman stars as P.T. Barnum, the founder of the famous Barnum and Bailey Circus which was established in 1871. Struggling to keep a job that will give his family a better life than his, Barnum sets out and recruits a host of unique individuals to form his New York circus. With the support of his loving wife (Michelle Williams), Barnum’s circus becomes a hit, with backlash from theater critics and high society threatening to damage his legacy along the way.
Virtually every cast member in The Greatest Showman is phenomenal. Jackman, who is no stranger to musical theater, triumphs vocally and emotionally in the lead role. The subplots of the supporting cast mostly hold equal weight and feel well in tune with the overarching narrative. Zac Efron stars as Barnum’s partner Phillip Carlyle, a playwright who forms a forbidden romance with a black trapeze artist (Zendaya). Keala Settle brings soulful vocals and wholesome charm as Lettie Lutz, the bearded lady. Even Rebecca Ferguson, who clearly borrows another voice for her character’s powerful vocals, entices as a famous Swedish singer who falls for Barnum.
But this is Matt Gracey’s first time directing a feature length film, and at times it is very noticeable. The film is often bogged down by rushed exposition and a few noticeable takes of poor editing. Sam Humphrey’s dwarf performer Charles Stratton seems to move awkwardly as if his legs are superimposed. His speaking voice also seems falsified, an unfortunate trend throughout the film. The music is certainly always splendid, but the obvious lip sync in a few scenes is somewhat cringeworthy to watch.
Despite the editing flaws and occasional narrative lulls, the interesting characters and brilliant music make the film easier to enjoy. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the songwriting duo behind La La Land, outdo themselves with this soundtrack. Here their musical style seamlessly molds a mix of genres like gospel and pop with a rich Broadway boldness that never manages to feel out of place in the 19th century setting. Coupled with fun choreography and some incredible visuals and set pieces, The Greatest Showman should be a delight to fans of the genre and absolutely avoidable for those that aren’t.
FINAL GRADE: B
THE BELKO EXPERIMENT James Gunn, the man that brought us Guardians of the Galaxy, brings us this violent, action horror film that’s Hunger Games meets Saw with a dash of Cabin in the Woods. It tells the story of a group of unsuspecting employees who are locked in an office building and forced to play a deadly game that forces them to execute their co-workers and closest friends.
The film’s gruesome nature is its best attribute. With a plot that is as dreary as it is brutal, it no doubt will be entertaining for anyone who is a fan of the genre. The amicable cast of B-listers does a decent job of actually making you care about the characters that are mostly killed off by the films end. Don’t look for any type of mind boggling subtext. Whatever additional point the film was trying to make in between the blood splatter gets lost in translation pretty quickly. FINAL GRADE: B
ALIEN… I Mean… LIFE Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A crew of space explorers comes across an extraterrestrial life form that begins aggressively hunting them down one by one. Even the font of the title card looks like its ripped straight from Ridley Scott’s classic horror franchise. The film sports an all star cast (Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson) as the crew of a NASA space station that makes first contact with a single celled Martian organism that rapidly grows into a man-eating super creature.
The film attempts to differentiate from Alien by applying more science to the science fiction. The specifics of the creature (nicknamed Calvin in the film) are spelled out for the audience, giving a sense of realism that does manage to add to the horror of it all. But none of the characters are memorable and only one of them (Hiroyuki Sinada) has an endearing subplot. So even though the film delivers on suspense, overall it just comes off feeling like a rip-off of something we’ve already seen done better. FINAL GRADE: C
GOING IN STYLE Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin star as a group of elderly friends who lose their retirement pension when the factory they used to work for is sold to an oversees company. Desperate to save their homes and support their families, the loveable trio seeks out the help of a master thief (John Ortiz) to help them plot a bank heist. Matt Dillon also stars as relatively dense FBI agent hot on their trail.
The movie tries its damndest to be Last Vegas meets Ocean’s Eleven, but it never really pulls off the latter part well. From the moment the heist goes down, you’ll need to suspend every ounce of common sense and belief in the FBI to believe that a bunch of elderly men can pull of the theft of millions of dollars in broad daylight. But the cast makes things entertaining simply by them being their charismatic selves. Simple charm makes these men feel like the grandpas you wish you had and that makes the film likable even through its flimsy story. FINAL GRADE: C
Who doesn’t love a good mystery? And when there’s infidelity involved, it makes it all the better. A good mystery always keeps you guessing. The Girl on the Train is the latest mystery-thriller novel to get the film treatment, and my hopes were high that it could deliver the same jaw dropping feeling I had when I saw 2014’s Gone Girl.
Emily Blunt stars as Rachel, an alcoholic whose ex-husband (Justin Theroux) is now married to his former mistress (Rebecca Ferguson). The two live a happy life with their newborn baby, while Rachel spends her days riding the train to and from New York City in a drunken depression. While peeping from her usual train seat, Rachel becomes entranced with the life of a young woman named Megan (Haley Bennett), who she believes is cheating on her husband (Luke Evans) with her psychiatrist (Edgar Ramirez). When Megan goes missing on the same day Rachel follows her in a drunken stupor, a detective (Allison Janney) begins questioning whether Rachel is responsible for Megan’s sudden disappearance.
Emily Blunt carries the film with a wonderful performance as the pitifully broken lead character. She elicits genuine sorrow for Rachel that makes you never really feel like she’s guilty even when the evidence is stacked against her. Unfortunately, her performance is really the only one that stands out and some performances, like most of the men, seem rigid.
I never read the book, so I can only comment on the structuring of the film. And for the film, it falls a bit flat. Certain clues and instances are often poorly placed making them feel like obvious miscues meant only to distract. As a result, the ending revelation isn’t remotely as surprising as I wanted it to be, or as surprising as it wants to be. And while I hate to compare this movie to Gone Girl, since none of the same pieces are involved, the two films are of the same genre. Gone Girl was so fantastic because just when you think you have things figured out, a new wrinkle is added to the narrative to make you second guess your hypothesis. Here, I was able to pin the culprit and motive down to one of two people as soon as all of the major players were introduced.
This coupled with weaker supporting performances makes the film suffer a bit. Maybe it was my own lofty expectations after watching the movie’s riveting trailer, but The Girl on The Train never feels as mysterious as it markets itself to be. By the end, the strength of Blunt’s emotional portrayal is the only thing keeping this from being a complete letdown.
FINAL GRADE: C+, Red Box it