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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

Come on, DC Films! You did so well with Wonder Woman, and Justice League was your chance to really establish your superhero universe!

And you blew it.

Justice League is an expensive mess in which some of our favorite superheroes battle an apocalyptic force, while two seriously different directors, Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon, battle with their filmmaking styles.

It’s no big secret that Zack Snyder (who created two execrable duds with Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) had to leave deep into production due to family reasons. Joss Whedon (The Avengers) stepped in for post-production and major reshoots. The resulting catastrophe is like a swig of boxed wine that has been left out in the sun for three weeks, chased by a big chug of Sunny Delight. Neither is a taste you want in your face.

The action picks up after the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), with Batman (Ben Affleck) still brooding as Gotham is invaded by bug-like alien creatures. It turns out they are the envoys of Steppenwolf, the worst special-effects/CGI bad guy you will see ever in a big-budget blockbuster.

Steppenwolf looks like the late singer of Alice and Chains had sex with a California Raisin, and then the offspring had sex with a Meat Loaf album cover. Finally, the Meat Loaf-album-cover baby had sex with an Atari video game console from the early 1980s that had an E.T. game stuck in it. That ugly-as-shit creature then went for a walk in Hollywood; Zack Snyder crossed its path, and, for some ungodly reason, he put a dopey helmet on it and screamed: “Behold! My next film’s villain!”

Anyway, Steppenwolf comes to Earth looking for the Mother Boxes, the DC Universe’s version of the Marvel Universe’s Infinity Stones. They combine to rule all worlds, or some bullshit like that. Batman thinks this is bad, so he gathers the planet’s superheroes, including Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg, aka the Worst Superhero Ever (Ray Fisher).

A big piece of the blockbuster puzzle is missing with Superman six feet under, so Batman decides to bring the corpse back to that ship where Lex Luthor made Doomsday out of Michael Shannon. It made no sense in BvS, and it makes no sense now, but, yes, Superman comes back, Jesus-style, and the only thing that looks worse than Steppenwolf in this flick is Henry Cavill’s freaky face. Cavill had a mustache during reshoots that he was contractually obligated to keep for another movie, so they had to digitally remove it in much of his footage. To say that his face looks altered would be an understatement: This is a very handsome man we are talking about, but he looks wonky for much of his screen time, like his face is a high-definition video trying to load on an older cell phone. He looks all smudgy and garbled. It’s not a good look for him.

OK, back to the stupid movie: The Justice League gets together and battles Steppenwolf in a sequence that offers no surprises and features more terrible special effects and editing. It isn’t only Steppenwolf and Henry Cavill who look like shit in this movie; the humans don’t blend well with the CGI, and always look inserted into an unwieldy gigabyte maelstrom. It’s hard on the eyes.

Godot still rocks as Wonder Woman in every moment she’s onscreen, and Miller makes a fun Flash. Affleck seems a bit tired of the Batman role, while Momoa is just a wisecracker as Aquaman, and Fisher is dreary as Cyborg. The Superman parts could’ve been cool, but the uneven face messes things up. It really brings out his teeth in a bad way; they are frighteningly pointy. He looks like a scary Superman vampire.

Whedon was handed a morose mess by Snyder, and Whedon didn’t have enough time and post-production talent to save the enterprise. Based on past work, I’m thinking the few moments in which the film brings a smile have everything to do with Whedon, and nothing to do with Snyder, who needs to move on to other projects.

Justice League is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

The end credits of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice give a thank-you shout-out to Frank Miller, author of The Dark Knight Returns. That’s the groundbreaking graphic novel that inspired the late-20th-century rebirth of Batman, influencing everything related since Tim Burton’s Batman.

Considering what transpires in the 2 1/2 hours before Miller’s name appears onscreen, Warner Bros. should be offering him an impassioned apology.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is definitive proof that director Zack Snyder should be banned from the DC universe. The man who gave us Sucker Punch has effectively knocked the wind out of two great comic-book heroes. This film is a crime against every geek who has ever picked up a graphic novel.

Hell, it’s also a crime against hard-core Ben Affleck fans. Affleck could be a fine Batman. Actually, he could be a great Batman. But, like George Clooney before him, he winds up looking quite ridiculous, running around in a messy movie in which his character simply doesn’t fit. A nice effort by Affleck to portray a nuanced, older, somewhat weary Bruce Wayne (in a badass suit!) is utterly wasted.

As for Henry Cavill’s Superman, I’m longing for those short-lived days of Brandon Routh as Kal-El. While it isn’t entirely his fault, Cavill’s Supes is officially a dud.

A sequel of sorts to the dreary Man of Steel (also directed by Snyder), Batman v Superman is a soulless step in the wrong direction. Snyder, who made a great graphic-novel movie with Watchmen, seems to have completely lost the ability to put a cohesive, exciting movie together.

The film meanders aimlessly, accompanied by an alternately sluggish and bombastic score by Hans Zimmer. Like Michael Bay before him, Snyder has become too reliant upon useless, unnecessary slo-mo. He follows these slo-mo scenes up with noisy CGI action that is often incoherent.

The movie commits many of the same sins as last year’s party-pooping Avengers: Age of Ultron: It’s nothing but a setup—a setup for a big battle that everybody knows will have a lame ending (and, boy howdy, is the fight resolution lame). It’s also a setup for future superhero and Justice League movies. It’s just a big marketing ploy.

The first true Justice League movie is set to begin production soon. Yes, Batman v Superman is making big money, but it would behoove Warner Bros. to step back, take a breather and consider giving this franchise over to a more-capable director, like George Miller. Christ, even Bay would be an improvement.

Snyder wants to get a bunch of characters (Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash) up to speed so we can get a Justice League movie that’s the equivalent of Marvel’s Avengers movies. He wants to get it done in one fell swoop, and it all feels forced and manipulative.

His film has no life, no pulse. It drags, drags, drags. By the time Batman and Superman are slugging it out, it’s just one element in a film that has way too many plot threads that aren’t getting proper attention.

It dawned on me while Batman and Superman were fighting that I didn’t really want to see these two incarnations of the characters fighting at all. It’s just kind of dumb. For a good, surreal Batman v Superman battle, read The Dark Knight Returns, or watch the animated movie adaptation that WB put out three years ago. The cartoon handles the battle in a much more convincing and logical way.

Subplots involving Lois Lane (Amy Adams, looking bored) and Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg, embarrassing himself) are howlers. Luthor’s nefarious plot to make the superheroes fight and ultimately face off against Doomsday is preposterous and pointless. 

My geek heart has taken a kryptonite spear to the chest with Batman v Superman. Yes, Affleck is good, so it is not a total loss, but, please, get Zack Snyder away from the DC playground. He represents the complete absence of fun.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

There was no movie that I was anticipating more this year than this cinematic rebirth of Superman. I was so excited that I buried in my mind the fact that director Zack Snyder’s most-recent effort, Sucker Punch, was a pungent mess.

Man of Steel could do no wrong. Right?

Wrong.

Snyder went and turned Supes (Henry Cavill) into a whiner with mommy issues. The director was going for something akin to Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, rather than the Richard Donner flicks that inspired Bryan Singer’s unjustly maligned Superman Returns.

General Zod, as played by Michael Shannon, is close to perfect. Conversely, Amy Adams is a total miss as Lois Lane, and Laurence Fishburne is awful as her boss, Perry White. Passing grades go to Kevin Costner as Superman’s earthly dad, and Russell Crowe as the Kryptonian papa. Diane Lane is also good as his Earth mommy.

This movie is absent of humor, joy and fun. I’m all for taking Superman to a darker place, but Snyder also takes him to a place that is significantly duller. I fear for the future of the Superman and Batman franchises with Snyder at the helm.

Special Features: There’s a feature in which Zack Snyder basically explains the whole movie; it’s a feature that goes beyond the scope of the usual audio commentary. In fact, it takes up most of the second disc you get in the package. You also get making-of docs. I liked the features more than the movie.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Seven years ago, director Bryan Singer tried to re-launch Superman by casting a Christopher Reeve clone (Brandon Routh) and a long-dead Marlon Brando, while retaining that majestic John Williams theme. I liked Superman Returns, but it performed beneath expectations, and producers put Superman on ice.

With Man of Steel, Warner Bros. is reviving Superman by giving the son of Jor-El the Christopher Nolan treatment. Nolan doesn’t direct, but he does produce; David S. Goyer, who co-wrote Nolan’s Batman films, has penned the script.

The result? A dull Superman who whines about his parents a lot. Man of Steel has some impressive fireworks, but it severely lacks soul. It’s like a Superman/Transformersmovie.

I’ll say this: Henry Cavill is easily the best-looking Superman. I mean, this guy is GORGEOUS. Man of Steel will probably do good box office simply because people will want to spend many summer hours just gazing at this positively dreamy guy. Problem is, he’s duller than an ax after 10,000 whacks at a big, hard boulder.

Much of the blame for Cavill’s flat effort should go to director Zack Snyder. Snyder’s films aren’t generally noted for their emotional realism. His thirst for style usually outweighs the need for his performers to deliver anything of depth, unless you count Gerard Butler screaming “This is Sparta!” in 300.

While I liked the way Snyder delivered his comic adaptation of Watchmen, I started to fret about him helming a Superman movie after the dreadful Sucker Punch. I was afraid Superman would get lost in a sea of washed-out visuals, extreme speeds, and stripper-hookers. Thankfully, he left out the strippers-hookers, but all of his other directorial trademarks made the cut.

For instance, whenever Superman flies, he flies like a supersonic jet. The camera is often far away, and he’s just a little speck zipping around. When we see him up close, he’s bouncing around so much that we can’t really enjoy the visual of a man flying. It’s like a really bad Top Gun movie.

This is another origin story, and with Nolan in the mix, it’s an often somber one. The thing with Superman is that he’s supposed to be selfless. His primary concern is saving people’s clumsy asses, not wondering who his parents really are. Sure, he cares to a certain extent, but not to the extent that it derails his primary mission of protecting humanity.

This story that starts on Krypton, where Jor-El, Superman’s philosopher dad (played well by Russell Crowe), is witnessing the destruction of his planet. Before things go kaboom, he has a final confrontation with the deranged General Zod (Michael Shannon) and launches a ship containing his infant son.

Fans of Superman know that he winds up on a farm with earthly caretakers (played winningly by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane). The film goes in a new direction with the Clark Kent alter ego—and I am not crazy about that direction.

The supporting cast is generally strong, with Crowe and Costner giving their best work in years. Shannon, in a fierce and frightening performance, almost makes the whole thing worthwhile.

While Man of Steel isn’t great, or even good, it does have a highly memorable villain in Zod, the Krypton general determined to see his people live on. In fact, the film suffers whenever Zod isn’t onscreen. Shannon manages to pierce the dulling veil that is Snyder’s directing.

As Lois Lane, Amy Adams isn’t really a factor. The script calls for her to be humorless and dull in her own right. (It’s no wonder she and Superman fall for each other.) As her boss, editor Perry White, Laurence Fishburne proves to be a terrible choice. He’s in full, droning Morpheus mode.

I must also call out the filmmakers for their musical choices. I understand the impulse to separate from the original Superman franchise, but John Williams wrote a great theme, and it deserves to be heard whenever an actor puts on the blue tights. (Let it be noted that these blue tights don’t have the red underwear on the outside … SACRILEGE!) The new score by Hans Zimmer is far from memorable.

This film is attempt by Warner Bros. to have a superhero beyond Batman to compete with all of Marvel’s Avengers. However, Marvel has the upper hand, because most of Marvel's recent films contain charm, humor and worthy drama to go with their whiz-bang. Man of Steel, meanwhile, just has a guy who looks really good in tights, and a villain who far outmatches him in acting prowess. The result is a movie that falls miserably flat.

There’s a moment at the end of Man of Steel that left me curious. Perhaps Cavill will come out of his shell in later installments, and will actually make an emotional impression in the sequels.

As for those sequels, I’d like to see one without Snyder at the helm. He has clearly lost his touch.

Man of Steel opens Friday, June 14, at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews