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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

As is the case with some of the other sequels coming our way this summer (Terminator Genisys, Jurassic World), Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation, the fifth in the series, is a decent piece of summer fluff, but little more than that.

Tom Cruise (whose hair stylist included a little too much red in the mix, resulting in a hue that doesn’t quite fit his complexion) is back as Ethan Hunt. This time around, he’s hanging from airplanes in unnatural and impossible ways, performing overly long tasks underwater, and riding a motorcycle again.

Everything he does is in service of a typically convoluted plot, involving some sort of evil syndicate of international agents who have faked their deaths and are looking to terrorize the planet. All sorts of nations are in on the evil, but the United Kingdom is especially nasty in this one, giving the whole thing a little bit of a James Bond vibe. In addition to London, Ethan goes to Morocco, Paris and Jupiter. (OK, I’m kidding about Jupiter … wouldn’t that be cool?)

If you are running late for the movie, just stay home, because you will miss the incredible airplane stunt in which Cruise clings to a jet while Simon Pegg looks on in horror. Some folks came into my screening a little late and missed the entire sequence. I wanted to walk up to them, point a finger and yell, “Ha, ha, ha … tardy, tardy, oh so farty, you and yours missed the plane stunt party! You suck! Go home!” However, the entire theater would’ve kicked my ass had I done this, so I refrained.

Speaking of Pegg, his Benji the computer analyst guy gets a bigger role this time around, reaching the level of spunky sidekick. He gets to scream and moan during car chases, and in the finale, he has one of the cooler moments in the movie, involving a bomb. It’s a good move having Cruise and Pegg pair up. It leads to a level of humor not present in previous installments.

A newcomer to the series, Alec Baldwin, gets a couple of good scenes as the CIA guy trying to eradicate Hunt’s agency. Rebecca Ferguson is impressive as an English agent who may or may not be a villain; she’s also quite decent-looking in a bikini. Jeremy Renner is around to crack wise as he messes with Baldwin’s character, while Ving Rhames still gets to collect a paycheck. As for Emilio Estevez, sadly, he’s still dead after his elevator accident in the first film.

This movie is directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who won a screenwriting Oscar for The Usual Suspects, directed Cruise in Jack Reacher, and wrote the incredible screenplay for Cruise’s vastly underrated Edge of Tomorrow. He’s officially in the Tom Cruise business.

Back to the subject of Cruise’s hair: I’m thinking his stylist should allow a little gray to come through, and should opt for something a little more dark brown. The reddish-orange tint bothers me, especially when the light hits it in a certain way. It makes him look older than he actually is. Come on—we all saw him totally grey in Collateral. He looked sharp, and that was more than years ago. Embrace the gray, Tom! Embrace the gray!

Word is out that Cruise is going to make Mission: Impossible 6, and who knows what crazy stunt he will subject himself to next time out? He’s scaled the tallest building in the world, gone cliff-climbing, and held onto an airplane while it takes off. Perhaps he will eat a whole glob of wasabi in one chomp at a sushi restaurant. That would be insane!

Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation is my least favorite M:I yet, but it’s still a good film. Things feel a little by-the-numbers this time, but Cruise is a crazy bastard who’s willing to go all-out for his movies, and this installment is no exception. The dude is nuts, and we, the movie-viewing public, are better off because he’s nuts.

Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost star in The World’s End as members of an old gang of friends getting back together to finish a hometown pub crawl they failed to complete 20 years earlier.

Pegg plays King, the group’s leader, a slightly disturbed man-child; Frost plays Andy, the group pessimist who is still recovering from a partying incident years before. They start drinking pints—only to discover that robots have overrun their old town. So in addition to completing the crawl, they must save the world.

This is the third film from Pegg and director Edgar Wright after Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, and it is a worthy conclusion to their “Cornetto” trilogy (named for a brand of ice cream that appears in all three films). It delivers a lot of laughs, great action and even a significant emotional punch.

It’s the second great apocalypse comedy of 2013; This Is the End is the other.

Special Features: This package is absolutely loaded with extra material, including three commentaries, long and enjoyable documentaries, lots of making-of shorts, and much more. Trust me: You get your money’s worth.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Director Edgar Wright teams with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost for the raucous conclusion to their “Cornetto” trilogy with The World’s End, a twisted homage to male bonding, beer crawls and John Carpenter sci-fi. This movie works because of the sense that anything can, and will, happen.

Pegg plays Gary King, a somewhat troubled but good-natured man who is determined to get his old crew back together to complete a pub crawl in his hometown—20 years after the gang failed to make it to the last pub on their infamous crawl, an incident providing King with a nagging sense of unfinished business.

A good chunk of the film is actually a warmhearted, funny and well-written gathering of old friends, told in straightforward fashion. Some of the men from the old gang are fairly happy to see King, while others, like Andy (Nick Frost), would prefer he piss off. Still, even the apprehensive Andy joins the crew for what looks to be a taxing crawl of 12 pubs.

If The World’s End had just been a story about arrested adolescence, the dangers of going “back,” and the perils of drinking too much, it would have been a great movie. Pegg and Frost display solid dramatic chops to go with their comedic instincts. But thankfully, Wright and Pegg (who co-wrote the screenplay) have more—much more—in mind. The film takes a crazy turn in a manner akin to the big twist in From Dusk Till Dawn, and it suddenly becomes an alien-invasion movie. (This is prominently mentioned in the film’s ad campaign; I hope I didn’t ruin your day.)

Their hometown has become overrun with blue-blooded robots from another world—robots who are determined to replicate earthlings and dispose of their bodies (featuring shades of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing). This sets the stage for some awesome man-on-robot fight scenes. The choreography is hilarious and nasty.

On top of everything, the film works as a scathing satire of the infiltration of technology in our society, and how those damned iPads and smartphones are taking over. (I love my gadgets, even if they are swallowing my soul. They’re just so damned cool to play with!)

The cast also includes Rosamund Pike as Sam, who does a fine job of kicking ass and looking flabbergasted. Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins!) reminds us that he is a master comedic actor; he plays an uptight real estate agent who never, ever removes his earphone, even when he’s pub-crawling. Eddie Marsan breaks hearts as Peter, a once-bullied man who is actually distraught when his former bully (Darren Boyd) fails to recognize him.

In terms of the Cornetto trilogy (named for a brand of ice cream that appears in all three films), this one is just a notch below Shaun of the Dead, yet a little better than Hot Fuzz. All three are solid, funny, smart films that make me wish they were part of a 10-movie series.

Many of the summer blockbusters have been big, bloated messes that delivered messy action with little to no thrills. Well, The World’s End makes up for a lot of the summer garbage with its big heart, numerous laughs and eye-popping visuals. Wright and Pegg are sick in the head—and we moviegoers all benefit from their particular brand of insanity.

The World’s End is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

When director J.J. Abrams created the alternate timeline with his brilliant 2009 Star Trek reboot, it gave the franchise a chance to construct all new adventures for Kirk and Spock. It also gave Abrams the opportunity to mess around with variations on characters and adventures that we have already seen.

Such is the case with the exhilarating Star Trek Into Darkness, a movie that includes elements of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and “Space Seed” (a classic Trek TV episode).

The film starts with Chris Pine’s cocky Kirk getting himself into more trouble. He ignores Starfleet directives and rescues Spock (Zachary Quinto) from an erupting volcano, allowing a primitive alien species to set their eyes on a big UFO in the form of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Kirk gets demoted by Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood), but keeps a relatively high rank thanks to his pal Pike pulling some strings.

Back on Earth, a bomb goes off in London courtesy of renegade Starfleet officer John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch); that same officer attacks a gathering of Starfleet commanders soon thereafter. He is pissed off, and anybody in a Starfleet uniform is his target.

Kirk and Spock find themselves en route to Klingon territory, where their homegrown terrorist has gone to hide. They have unorthodox directives from Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) to target and assassinate the terrorist from the skies using torpedoes. (Echoes of drone targeting and the U.S. hunt for Osama bin Laden, right?)

So … you have Klingons, terror in London, commanders getting attacked and volcanoes erupting with Vulcans in their belly. That’s a pretty damned good start to a sequel, no?

The true identity of Cumberbatch’s character might not come as a surprise. Heck, his real character name is listed in the cast on IMDB.com. As for me, I remained in the dark until some jackass uncorked a spoiler on the Internet a few weeks ago. Damn you, Internet reviewer. Damn you! The Internet is a fun thing, but it sure does wreak havoc on those fun movie secrets.

Abrams gets a little heavy-handed with the Sept. 11/War on Terror allegory, but he still keeps his movie effective, and even moving at times. As for his use of a tribble—the furry pests the Enterprise contended with in a famous series episode—it is my least-favorite part of the movie. The way the tribble is utilized makes no sense and feels like a stretch.

Abrams also oversteps a bit with pivotal late scene between Kirk and Spock that is a mirror version of an infamous scene in Khan. I don’t mind him messing with the Trek legacy, but keep it original. Bring back some famed characters, and hint at moments from franchise past, but don’t blatantly copy them. There’s a moment when Spock yells a particular word that got unintentional laughs from me.

Cumberbatch does a great riff on an old adversary, and his deep voice is one for the ages. He’s one of those anything-can-happen movie villains who is frightening, yet oddly virtuous. Weller gets his best role in years as Marcus, a flawed man with an imperialistic agenda that might have some people viewing him as the film’s real villain.

Alice Eve is another memorable new addition as Carol Marcus, the admiral’s daughter and a stowaway on the Enterprise. Some of you might remember a scientist from a previous Star Trek film with that same name. Well, from now on, you’ll remember Eve, who has an obligatory underwear scene that is right up there with Sigourney Weaver’s out-of-nowhere strip in the original Alien.

Pine and Quinto might not have you forgetting Shatner and Nimoy, but they have established themselves in their roles and can probably own them as long as they want. Zoe Saldana has many shining moments as Uhura.

Simon Pegg’s Scotty, John Cho’s Sulu, Anton Yelchin’s Chekov and, especially, Karl Urban’s Bones all contribute to the party. The Star Trek franchise gets the award for Best Reboot Casting.

If you see Star Trek Into Darkness in 3-D, know that this is retrofitted 3-D. It looks OK, but you are probably safe to take in the 2-D version (although the Abrams lens flares do look pretty cool in 3-D; the man loves his lens flare).

For a film called Into Darkness, there are many, awesome shots of the Enterprise during the day. It’s interesting to see a ship usually cloaked in darkness sailing around in daytime skies, and even going underwater at one point.

There’s a pivotal chase scene in which Kirk and Spock pilot a ship that has a Millennium Falcon vibe to it. That had me thinking about the next Star Wars, and what Abrams—who will direct—plans to do with it. Abrams has a grasp on major geek real estate with these two franchises. He’s, like, the Godfather of Geeks, and he could destroy all of us with a bad chapter in either series. He’s a powerful man capable of great good—or insurmountable evil.

Fortunately, he used his powers for good with Star Trek Into Darkness, a solid piece of summer entertainment.

Star Trek Into Darkness is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews