By the time the sixth entry in a popular franchise rolls around, you’d be forgiven for expecting things to get a bit lazy. Tom Cruise has now cemented himself as the biggest action star since Schwarzeneggar with a does-his-own-stunts calling card to rival Jackie Chan, but can another outing keep on upping the anti? Let’s see… Cruise returns as super agent Ethan Hunt who this time is given the job of tracking down three nuclear bombs that have fallen into the hands of black market dealers. He must stop them falling into the hands of The Apostles, what remains of Rogue Nation’s The Syndicate to prevent a global catastrophe. However when a mission takes an unexpected turn, Hunt and his team (including series regulars Simon Pegg & Ving Rhames) find the odds stacked against them – just how it should be.
Ok so having to stop nuclear bombs falling into the wrong hands is probably as generic a plot as it gets and with the return of Rogue Nation’s sleepy-talking villain, this initially felt like it was going through the motions. Yet it soon dawned on me that this time it was less about the mission and more about Ethan Hunt; the man, his methods and his dilemmas, constantly haunted by that fateful decision he made three movies back to send his wife (Michelle Monaghan) into hiding. The story handles this aspect that’s only ever been hinted at in previous movies, very well indeed and proves the movie’s beating heart in place of set piece after set piece. Yet along with the return of Rebecca Ferguson’s assassin ‘Elsa’ we still get tons of action, car chases, roof top chases, fights and a helicopter chase sequence that has to be seen to be believed.
The pacing stumbles occasionally, not helped by some copy and paste sequences that aren’t quite as good as we’ve seen before (another bike chase?), yet the movie makes up for this in strong performances and memorable character moments that made me love the camaraderie between Hunt and his agents. Six movies into the franchise this may be a different kind of Mission Impossible but by this stage that’s a good thing.
I like Joaquin Phoenix and it has to be said, you never really know what you’re in for with his movies. He’s weird but fascinating and usually at least his performance is something to come away appreciating regardless of the movie. This thriller has him as ‘Joe’ a grizzled, world-weary hit man, who takes jobs from various shady contacts, killing whomever he’s told to for a cash sum whilst otherwise going about his life, caring for his ailing mother and haunted by a troubling past.
There are strong echoes of the seminal Taxi Driver here, with similar themes of feeling disaffected by the world surround oneself and wanting to find some sort of meaning within the murk, the grime and the sleaze. Once Joe however stumbles upon a case of a runaway girl who may have fallen victim to a child sex trafficking ring, a new found purpose emerges which quickly comes with unexpected repercussions. It lacks the dry wit of Martin Scorsese’s classic, and plays out in a rather unique fashion, hardly showing any of the violence that is clearly taking place, preferring jump cuts and fancy editing to give a sense of dread and hopelessness, which works well. However with a vague approach to the details, especially surrounding Joe’s past, this proves frustrating and with performances that are mostly blank stares and silence (and sometimes words uttered so lazily it’s hard to actually make them out) … for all this is trying to achieve, it ends up annoying in equal measure.
Director Lynne Ramsay has certainly delivered a different kind of thriller; sort of like Taken but with absolute realism in place of Hollywood action … a movie that lingered in my memory, disturbed me but was ultimately unfulfilling – reflective I’d say of the central character’s life. Perhaps that was the point.
I’d say it’s more than reasonable to approach videogame adaptations with a degree of trepidation, as many an attempt in the past has resulting in underwhelming or terrible interpretations of a much loved past-time. This latest offering, a sort of reboot after the Angelina Jolie movies … stars Ex-Machina’s Alicia Vikander as the plucky adventurer. Following the disappearance of her father Richard Croft, Lara Croft is leaned on by her father’s company to sign papers regarding the family business and her inheritance. However this leads Lara to launch her own trip to an uncharted island in a hope of solving the mystery of what her father was up to.
The story borrows to an extent from the first game in the recently rebooted franchise which gave us a refreshingly mature take on a character who in the past had become more famous for her polygon tits & ass than the games she was starring in. Despite the source material however, this movie chooses to take it’s own path, leaving behind much of the personality and depth of story-telling in favour of a rather brainless Indiana Jones rip-off. Sigh.
Vikander, so nuanced in the aforementioned Ex-Machina and potentially a rising star in the making is only passable as Lara despite those ripped abs and overall likeability. The movie fails to do anything with her character that we haven’t seen before (rich girl hiding her richness?). Add to this a terrible villain (Walton Goggins) who seems to do every movie villain stupid thing in the book (like choosing never to actually kill Lara or her Chinese deposable friend (Daniel Wu) even when they’re of no more use to him). Also with an ending that is all sequel-bate with little to no justification for shady organization ‘Trinity’ being on the island … I came away disappointed that still, Hollywood failed to deliver the care, respect or talent when it came to a videogame adaptation.
Avoid – unless you’re a total Tomb Raider obsessive … and even then you deserve better.
Another Netflix original movie that caught my eye. This sci-fi thriller is about a girl named Julia, who goes about earning money by pick-pocketing and swiping goods off people in night clubs then selling them to the local dodgy backstreet dealer for a small cash return. However, one night she is kidnapped from her apartment, and wakes up strapped to a chair inside an elaborate high-tech house, run by a genius yet unhinged scientist and his advanced A.I.
Mika Monroe is an actress with the typical Hollywood good looks but often brings a vulnerability to her performances, which worked well in movies like The Guest and especially It Follows. Here she’s initially all attitude, but delivers a more complex character arc on realising the best way to deal with her situation is to befriend ‘Tau’ the house’s A.I. (voiced recognisably by Gary Oldman). It’s this relationship that forms the heart of the movie and less the battle of wits between Julia and the scientist, mostly because it doesn’t bring much to the table and that troubled-genius-shtick was done far better in Ex Machina.
The movie has some hit and miss effects, with the robotic security guard pretty well done, but some A.I. drones that look a little naff. Add to this some alarming jumps in narrative that come out of nowhere towards the end (hand surgery…) and an ending that leaves far too many questions. Yet I was still impressed how affected I was with the character of Tau to the point of really feeling sorry for it, and yes the movie borrows heavily from better movies but still manages to create an enjoyable 90 minutes regardless.
Nostalgia is a funny thing. When I saw that this had been given the prestigious Criterion treatment, I immediately was transported back to when I saw this one night on TV many years ago and remember really liking it. Sitting down now with much more jaded eyes, it transpires it’s not quite the classic I thought it was, even though there’s still fun to be had. Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber) plays Charles, a straight laced office worker who one day has a chance encounter with free-spirited Lulu (Melanie Griffith) who takes Charles on a road trip straight out of his comfort zone that awakens a side to him he never knew he had. Everything is going great until they bump into Lulu’s jail bird husband (Ray Liotta) who seems hell-bent on winning Lulu back.
Its a good concept and one I quickly felt engaged by, but once the ‘wild’ element of Lulu’s nature falls away and reveals who she really is, the movie stops dead, with a very awkward ‘lets go visit my mom’ scene and a drawn out high school reunion sequence. Thankfully once Liotta turns up the movie is cranked up several levels and transforms into more of a thriller. Liotta is brilliant, channelling that dangerous-charm he later honed to perfection in Goodfellas. Also Daniel’s proves much more than simply an every man for the audience to latch onto. Griffiths is also highly watchable and further proves why she was the go-to actress of the 80’s and has presence and personality to spare. The movie never really hits it’s stride though, suffering from a bit of an identity crisis and is neither funny enough to be a comedy, exciting enough to be a thriller or charming enough to be a love story. Like a lot of the other also-ran movies of the 80’s this one’s a bit of an oddity, but certainly retains a quirky appeal.
This UK Criterion release is rather underwhelming. The image quality, whilst showing off some vibrancy to it’s colour palette is marred by a lot of smudgy shots. There’s generally a soft look and lack of detail to the whole presentation. The 2 channel DTS HD soundtrack doesn’t exactly wow either, but dialogue is sharp even if music cues seem to lack punch. Extras consist of a detailed booklet that includes an essay by film critic David Thompson. On the Blu-ray itself there’s an archive interview with director Jonathan Demme and the screenwriter, and we also get a trailer. Not exactly the exhaustive treatment one might expect from Criterion.
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