Mission Impossible: Fallout (Aka The Matrix 4)

Ok, so here’s the thing about Tom Cruise and his Mission Impossible movies. Tom Cruise is a famous actor, but more than that, in his late 50s, he’s become the world’s foremost movie stuntman. With each Mission Impossible film he does more and more outrageous stunts to the point that the only stuntman he’s been competing with for the past decade is probably himself.

What people need to understand about Tom Cruise is that if there’s a car, and you don’t see him, he’s still driving it. Same goes for airplanes, helicopters, skydiving, rock climbing, underwater hijinks, or anything else. Yes, in a sense it’s amazing but what people forget is there is some CG that needs to be used in the film. I think Mission Impossible: Fallout is the first film where this backfires.

DISCLAIMER: I really enjoyed this movie! I am just making a point about the SFX.

Ok, my basic point is this: Cruise’s stunts have become so realistic and outlandish that they mesh with CGI to the point that you don’t gasp and go “that’s real!” anymore. The problem I believe comes down to 3D cinema (how I viewed the film) in that 3D adds an extra level of blur. This makes it difficult to distinguish Cruise’s real stunts from the CGI elements. A good example of this is the HALO skydive he does in the film – Cruise did the skydiving which required 100 jumps to film all the footage. Yes, 100 HALO (very complex high altitude skydives) to do one scene. It’s insanity. But the scene also involves some thunderclouds and storms that he dives through which are CGI. But what the storm does is blur the practical effects and the CGI together.

Over the film, this created for me an awkward sense of being unable to separate the ‘dream world’ of CGI with the real practical effects. Hence my cryptic title of this blog mentioning the film as ‘Matrix 4’…How do you feel about a film when the practical and the computer meet and blur? Well, it just makes your mind have difficulty being amazed with Cruise’s stunt work.

At this point I want to state that the film is quite good. Cruise’s costars including Ving Rhames (the last original IMF member other than Cruise) and especially Henry Cavill as “Walker” deliver. I loved Cavill’s performance which alternates between Ron Swanson from “Parks and Recreation” as an assassin to a violent Ryan Gosling from “Drive”. Alec Baldwin does good in his small role as IMF director. I really like Vanessa Kirby, a prior unknown actress to myself, who mixes an intriguing mix of elegance with believable sexual desire for Ethan Hunt (Cruise) that keeps cracking through to then be barely contained.

The plot is complex. It has so many twists and turns that it’s hard to follow at times and, unfortunately for me, hits Mission Impossible 2 level silliness with their hyper-realistic mask stuff and voice chips. If you’ve seen the other films, you know what I’m talking about. The best scene is a genius one involving CNN, that’s all I’ll say. Ok fine, I’ll say the scene very accurately portrays modern CNN.

Mission Impossible: Fallout is an excellent movie only partially derailed by its own success and excess. It reminds me of someone being the best at the Nintendo game Mario Kart. You can then race your own ghost on a course, trying to best yourself, and it’s a little weird. No film does practical stunts like a Mission Impossible film and they’ve pushed it so far the mind has trouble adjusting. Just like in The Matrix.

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Why “Solo” Is Great

Myself, a big Star Wars fan, just returned tonight from seeing the much-maligned “Solo”. Solo is the first Star Wars movie that is believed to lose money since ticket sales, compared to the other films, was poor. It had a troubled history with a relatively unknown actor (Alden Ehrenreich ) as Han Solo with rumors coming out that he frankly, sucked, as Han. Later the directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired with generally losing control of the film on many levels, including making a mess of things by overlying on improvisation. “Thor: Ragnarok” this film was not supposed to be, or so we heard.

Veteran director Ron Howard, one of my personal favorites, was brought in to clean up the mess and re-shoot the majority of the film. With rock-bottom expectations for the film I just felt uninterested in seeing it soon after release, but I did want to see it like I want to see all Star Wars films, at least ONCE in the theater.

I remember tonight being 15 minutes in, noticing a huge smile on my face, and realizing “Hey, this is really good so far!” And that didn’t change for the rest of the movie. Why people don’t like this movie much – I have no clue – it pleasantly surprised me. So instead, I’ll give my reasons why I really liked it. All spoilers I want to discuss follow (but who HASN’T seen this yet except for me??).

1.) The characters were really solid.

First and foremost I “bought” Alden E. as Solo. He just felt right…Right smile, right attitude. Not the same Han, but a more innocent Han. Emilia Clarke was seductive and charming as Qi’Ra and I felt her and Alden had some legit chemistry. Lando was great, Donald Glover is a AAA talent and delivers in everything in his short career, and he was great as Lando.

Some other minor characters impressed. I liked Paul Bettany’s turn as Dryden Vos, the main bad guy. Paul has traditionally played dramatic roles and good guys (at least where I’ve seen him) but with his tall lanky frame, scar makeup, and a few scenes of rage, I thought he was a great villain. Woody Harrelson as Beckett was good as well. I liked what they did more with Lando’s droid L3 than her personality, but I’ll discuss that in a minute.

I also liked Chewbecca’s origin and continue to enjoy how seamless the transition has been to the new Chewbecca actor, who has the body language and mannerisms down pat.

2.) The movie was well-crafted.

A surprise after all the turmoil of its production, but the movie didn’t feel like a mess. Ron Howard has always been a master at keeping the action in frame and showing the audience what it needs to see to make sense of a scene…Not like many of the new “quick cut on meth” directors we see directing the action these days. I hate those rapid cuts, you can’t see what’s going on and it can cover up poor choreography. I felt it was a major issue in “Black Panther” for example.

3.) The Beautiful Retconns.

Retconns or “retroactive continuity” is a relatively new concept in film, certainly on the scale we see it these days. Basically it is plot points or answers to plot points found in earlier-made films, but films that take place in the time frame after a prequel. A big example prior to Solo would be “Rogue One” explaining why the Death Star has such an obvious flaw with its exhaust port. A well-crafted retconn has the ability to enhance BOTH the prequel and latter film’s viewing. A poor retconn can ruin both, however.

In Solo’s case my favorite retconn is that of the droid L3. In the original trilogy, Han is constantly talking to the Falcon as “her” and while some people do that with vehicles, for me Han’s affection always seemed to be more than that. That was backed up in “The Empire Strikes Back” where Han mentions that he needs C-3PO to talk to the Falcon. When hooked up, C-3PO talks about her having a weird personality and a “peculiar dialect”. This was great: it shows that the Millennium Falcon is more than just a ship but actually a sentient robot with the ‘soul’ of L3.

I enjoyed seeing Sabaac, basically Star Wars poker, actually onscreen instead of just mentioned (it’s a huge part of the books). Corellia looked good, planet Corellia has always represented the United States, and I felt represented such architecture.

There were a few other tidbits I wanted to touch on. I enjoyed the “Western” feel of the movie, particularly the “Great Train Robbery” type scene. I thought Lady Proxima, a giant puppeted water millipede, was a creepy but really good effect. In general, costume and set design were great. Emilia Clarke in particular has some great costumes that fit her well (really well). She’s always seemed super intelligent in interviews and I’ll admit I totally have had a crush on her for years anyways 🙂

The criticisms? Well, very few films are devoid of criticism and Solo isn’t an exception. Firstly, I really didn’t like the music. It felt tonally wrong for Star Wars and was uninspired. In addition the music wasn’t LOUD enough! This is something filmmakers actually control at the theater level, so the blame is on them. I felt the ending was overly long and had too many double-crosses to be believable.

Narratively, my biggest criticism is why Qi’Ra leaves Han. She chooses money as a way of “surviving” it seems rather than running off with Han. Perhaps it’s implied that she can’t leave Crimson Moon or whatever the hell gang she’s part of, but I figured she would have tried, choosing love with Han even with said risks. Darth Maul’s cameo was cool though!

I guess in the end, I’d ask the world, I’ve made my case on why Solo was great – what are your reasons why it wasn’t?

 

Infinity War: A Satire

This is going to go into huge spoilers for the film “Avengers: Infinity War” if you haven’t seen it and don’t want spoilers. Go away for now.

 

Seriously, you’ll want to get lost.

 

Scram.

 

Still here?

 

‘Kay.

So, Infinity War was a pleasant surprise. Not the least of which it was rated 84% on Rotten Tomatoes, which for a superhero film by Marvel, is fairly low. I expected a popcorn action blockbuster with little heart. Just a temporary sweetness that quickly subsides like my low-carb shortbread. One of my worries about the film was that it would play it safe, like Marvel tends to. That means that they would kill as few characters as possible, lower the violence to killing or random robots or mutants (well, they did kinda stock to that here), and generally keep it a PG rated film where you go home happy in knowing your characters are safe and secure.

This did not happen lol.

Indeed, Infinity War occurred as it does in the comics, comics I do not read, and so I was shocked and appalled when the main villain, Thanos, won. Thanos, having come from a planet that got destroyed through overpopulation, seems to think that the Universe could benefit from his desire to decimate half the universe. In order to do so, he has to collect all the cosmic gems that go into his “Infinity Gauntlet”, which lets him wield the power of the stones to do anything he wants. Now again I stress, Thanos won. What ended up happening was a horrific set of scenes without any music where people just started disappearing into dust. Civilians, superheroes, everyone alike. In most cases the people simply didn’t know what was going on; however, in Spider-Man’s case his death for some reason takes several seconds longer than the other characters. This lets him express a boyish fear to Tony Stark as he slowly passes to dust. The film ends with Thanos retiring to a hut looking sad for doing what he figured he had to do. Credits roll.

This places the film, taken alone, in the rare literary genre of “satire”. Satires really interest me as stories. Compared to the four great stories of literary history “comedy, romance, tragedy, and satire” – satire is the odd man out. The Ghost of Christmas Past, the creepy uncle no one talks about, take your pick. Satire is depressing and frankly, not that enjoyable! What defines the difference of satire to the other stories is that the characters go down a destructive path leading to disaster – but unlike a tragedy – there is no hope for the future. Now, Marvel probably will have another big Avengers film where somehow Thanos’ process is reversed, everyone comes back alive, yay. However, we can’t assume that despite the large contracts given out to many of the ‘dead’ superheroes, that they’ll all make it back.

It’s a bold move. Satires are not what the blockbuster audience is used to and it doesn’t provide the rewarding dopamine burst of “happy” to your brain cells like a more uplifting film would. I, myself, feel the same way with films that have dark and near-hopeless endings. A few come to mind, “Logan” which came out last year was absolutely fantastic but it ends as a tragedy. I bought Logan…It’s still shrink-wrapped, and it will be for quite some time, because I know how sad I’ll feel at the end of it. The feel is sadness, and when you have some moments to kick back with a movie – I don’t know about you – but a movie that will make me sad usually doesn’t come first to mind!

So, if we define Infinity War as a satire then what is the point of it all? I actually think it teaches a pretty good lesson that isn’t taught in life much anymore: failure. Failure happens, we’re not always going to win. Look, I personally have no shortage of self-confidence, in fact admittedly I struggle with having too much confidence and fight daily against it becoming arrogance. When you win or are lucky all the time you get complacent, feel entitled, and become stubborn and set in your ways. Failure, like a forest fire, burns but with that “burn” comes the opportunity for learning and regrowth. I’ve come to accept some failure in my life as a good thing, it humbles me and helps me think and ground myself back in reality.

The elephant in the room is that we know this satire won’t last. Soon enough the superheroes will be super and find a way to partially restore the damage Thanos has done. However, until that happens – which is likely in a few years – we can enjoy the bold move Marvel took with this film.