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Fri11222019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Tom Cruise is his maniac self in Mission: Impossible—Fallout, the sixth installment in the steady franchise—and proof that Cruise is certifiably insane. The movie is one “Wow!” moment after another, and the guy shows no signs of slowing down, even though he’s now 56 years old.

The movie stacks stunt after stunt, featuring Cruise doing everything from jumping out of airplanes, to scaling cliffs, to piloting his own helicopter. It also shows Cruise leaping from one rooftop to another and breaking his ankle against a building—a stunt that shut down production for weeks, but remains in the film, in all its bone-breaking glory.

Do we really care about the plot when some of the best stunts and action scenes ever are here? Thankfully, the plot is a fun, twisted story, so you’ll be interested even when Cruise isn’t risking his life. Yes, there are a lot of, “Hey, haven’t I seen that before?” moments—lots of masks get ripped off, for starters—but the labyrinthine hijinks still feel fresh overall.

No, I’m not going to do much to explain the plot. It wouldn’t really do you any good.

OK, I’ll tell you a little.

Ethan Hunt (Cruise) finds himself on yet another mission to save the world, this time from nuclear terrorists headed by Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the baddie from the franchise’s prior installment, making a welcome return. This time, Hunt is saddled with an “observer” in August Walker (Henry Cavill), tasked by CIA director Erica Sloan (a so-so Angela Bassett) with making sure Ethan and the IMF complete their mission with minimal funny stuff.

Cruise is sick in the head. Thankfully, one part of his sickness makes him willing to pull off movie stunts like the ones mentioned above. Cruise, while reteaming yet again with director Christopher McQuarrie (now the only director to have helmed two M:I films), manages to pull off his most spectacular cinematic feats yet. The skydive sequence, in which Hunt must work to save an unconscious co-jumper before they go splat, is simply unbelievable (in a good way). There’s a motorcycle chase through Paris streets that demands you see this thing on an IMAX screen.

Cavill, whose facial hair in this film has gotten a lot of attention over the last year, gets a chance to stretch out and play someone far more interesting than his Kryptonian dud. Here, he’s a multi-dimensional badass, especially in a bathroom brawl during which Walker and Hunt try to take out a worthy opponent. Cavill shares in the glory of some of the film’s craziest stunts. That’s not him skydiving, though: Cruise, also a producer on the film, forced Cavill to watch that sequence from the ground in favor of a stunt double.

Alec Baldwin, the original Jack Ryan, takes a break from hosting Match Game to show that he can still throw some big-screen punches as Hunt’s new IMF commander. Vanessa Kirby is sinisterly terrific as White Widow, a sly arms dealer Hunt whom must confront. In her second go-round, Rebecca Fergusson’s Ilsa Faust adds many elements of surprise. Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames deliver their usual, competent support. Lorne Balfe’s score deserves a big round of applause for its adrenaline-inducing contributions.

No matter how much money this movie makes, Cruise needs to slow down at some point. In some ways, Mission: Impossible—Fallout feels like it could be the franchise capper. It’s hard to think of any way Cruise could top what he puts onscreen, action-wise.

Then again, I probably started saying stuff like that when the original Mission: Impossible came out.

Mission: Impossible—Fallout is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

Selecting Ryan Coogler to helm Black Panther is a major triumph: His entry into the Marvel universe is a majestic, full-bodied, exhilarating treatment of the African-king title character (Chadwick Boseman) with the crazy-cool suit. Marvel has yet another big success with a grand future.

Coogler has three feature films to his credit now—one masterpiece (Fruitvale Station) and two very good movies (Black Panther and Creed). He’s officially one of the best directors currently calling the shots. This is also his third collaboration with actor Michael B. Jordan, who brings a fleshed-out, complicated villain to the screen in Erik Killmonger. Man, you need to be bad with that last name.

The pre-opening-credit scenes involves Black Panther’s dad and predecessor having a confrontation in 1992, in Oakland, Calif. A major event takes place as some kids playing basketball look on. It turns out to be one of the more brilliant and heart-wrenching setups for a Marvel-movie character yet.

The action cuts to present day, where Black Panther/T’Challa is dealing with the death of his father due to an event that took place in Captain America: Civil War. (The producers and screenwriters linked these films together very well.) He’s set to become king, but must pass through a ritual with some risk involved. He overcomes the obstacles, gets his throne and prepares for his rule. However, his kingdom doesn’t get a moment to breathe before trouble ensues.

Elsewhere, Killmonger has come across an ancient weapon forged in Wakanda (the Black Panther’s homeland), made from vibranium, a precious resource that fuels much of Wakanda’s advanced technology, including the Black Panther suits. With the help of Wakanda enemy Klaue (Andy Serkis, acting with his real face as opposed to a motion capture suit), Killmonger obtains the weapon, threatening world stability.

The story is told with a stunning level of social relevance for a superhero film, especially when it comes to Killmonger’s motives. He’s not just some guy looking to enrich himself for selfish purposes; he’s got some big reasons for having gone bad, and they make him a far more sympathetic character than, say, Loki from Thor.

As good as Boseman is, and he’s really good, Black Panther is a big success thanks very much to the cast around him. Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o plays the possible love interest in Nakia, getting her finest post-Oscar role yet. The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira makes a confident graduation to big-screen action hero, while Letitia Wright gets a lot of laughs as T’Challa’s mischievous and extremely smart sister, Shuri.

There are so many great performers in this movie that there isn’t enough room here to give them all praise, but here are a few more: Angela Bassett, Martin Freeman, Forest Whitaker, Winston Duke, Daniel Kaluuya and Sterling K. Brown all play formidable roles. It’s early in the year, but this will surely stand as one of 2018’s best ensemble casts.

Coogler proves he can handle a big-action blockbuster. His action scenes mostly snap with precise energy and efficiency, but some of them are a bit jumbled and hard to follow due to low light or ill-advised camera angles. I saw the film in IMAX 2-D, so perhaps some of what I was seeing played better in 3-D. There was nothing too sloppy, but some moments were not as tight as the rest of the film.

Black Panther is a superhero saga rich with culture and gravitas, and yet it does not skimp on the good humor and action thrills we’ve come to expect from Marvel. DC’s recent offerings (Justice League, Suicide Squad) make everyone involved with them look like goofballs in comparison (with Wonder Woman being the lone recent exception). Black Panther and Marvel show us that big-screen superhero entertainment can be about much more than suits and explosions.

Black Panther is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

Spike Lee presents what is easily his most-ambitious film in more than a decade with Chi-Raq, a wild adaptation of the Greek play Lysistrata set in modern-day Chicago.

Lee casts old pal Samuel L. Jackson as the narrator (of course) and utilizes a rhyming script and stellar cast to postulate what would happen with gang violence in Chicago if all the women withheld sex. The play was crazy—and the movie is crazy.

While the tone is all over the place, the setup gives Lee a chance to do some of his funniest screen work since the humorous interludes in Do the Right Thing. There’s a scene in which Dave Chappelle (Yes, that Dave Chappelle!) plays a strip club owner that might be the funniest thing Lee has ever done. Chappelle needs to do some more acting, because he smokes his one scene.

Teyonah Parris shines as Lysistrata, leader of the female movement and girlfriend of gangsta-rapper Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon). You’ll also find Wesley Snipes in fine form as rival gang leader Cyclops, Angela Bassett as elder stateswoman Miss Helen, D.B. Sweeney as the crazed mayor, and a revved-up John Cusack as Father Mike Corridan. Everybody does good work in the service of a mostly fun screenplay.

The film is flawed. Some of Lee’s sloppy tendencies sneak in, and not all of the jokes work. Some of those film’s shifts into more-serious happenings are awkward. But when the movie is working, it shows that perhaps the real Spike Lee was just hibernating with some of his mediocre recent efforts. It’s great to see him back in fearless-auteur mode.

Chi-Raq is available on demand and via online sources including Amazon.com and iTunes.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing