A-Z challenge – update


My self proposed challenge continues and is going fairly well. When going into this I didn’t intend it to be one of these movie marathons , generally taking a moderate pace to it whilst still intending to get it done well before my June 30th limit. I think I’ve done well so far and have reached letter F next, which is going to be one of three movies, depending on mood.

So for letter C I went with the underrated Al Pacino gangster thriller ‘Carlito’s Way’, a movie that offers up a rather romantic take on the crime thriller and boasts a solid turn from Pacino as well as Sean Penn. Director Brian De Palma is on fine form delivering his signature style, if somewhat toned down compared to other works, and a whimsical vibe aided by Pacino’s reflective narration. Next was D, and here I went for one of the less appreciated Die Hard sequels, namely ‘Die Hard 2’ which to be fair is a solid entry, with a similar tone to the first movie but on a bigger scale with Bruce Willis again on wise-cracking form. For E I went with the Tom Cruise sci-fi actioner ‘Edge of Tomorrow’, a clever and particularly fun movie with a great central concept and good support from a badass Emily Blunt. Director Doug Liman takes the classic Groundhog Day premise and marries it perfectly with alien invasion battle sequences to deliver solid thrills.

So onto letter F which should be interesting. It’s been good rediscovering movies from my Blu-ray collection, but also see myself discovering some movies I happen to own but haven’t got around to watching. So there will be a few first-viewings during this challenge. I may write full reviews for those entries, we’ll see.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout


Viewed – 31 July 2018  Cinema

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.

Mission Impossible Fallout

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.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

American Made


Viewed – 16 January 2018  online rental

I’m not afraid to say I’m a fan of Tom Cruise.  If ever there was a genuine ‘movie star’ this guy is it and has been in some of the greatest movies ever made, as well as always being a watchable and likeable presence.  This latest effort follows the true story of Barry Seal, an airline pilot who inexplicably becomes embroiled in drug running for notorious drug baron Pablo Escobar as well as working for the CIA.  It’s an unbelievably crazy story that also just happens to be based on real events.

American-Made

Doug ‘the bourne identity’ Liman’s movie certainly follows a similarly erratic, caper approach to it’s story telling as seen in movies like The Wolf of Wall Street and even seems to echo TV hit Breaking Bad, what with Cruise’s gradually spiralling out of control situation, hiding money, trying not to get killed whilst also looking out for his wife and kid.  Cruise brings his usual charisma to his performance but it’s refreshingly free of those typical Cruise-isms making for a more believable and human performance than we’ve seen in a while.  Add to this welcome support from a slimy Domhnall Gleeson (Ex Machina, The Last Jedi) and assured direction from Liman and I had a great time with this.

I was surprised how little focus the movie has on Pablo Escobar, reducing the man to little more than a cameo.  Also it’s a bit too mad from the off and took some getting into, and is a bit too light-hearted when a bit more grit and darkness might have aided the movie’s overall impact.  Yet once the journey started and stakes kept getting raised I was suitably gripped.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

Mission: Impossible


Viewed – 11 August 2015  Blu-ray

With Rogue Nation fresh in my head, I thought it might be fun to revisit the original 1996 blockbuster.  Now sitting down to this, my memory was fairly cloudy and I realised I hadn’t actually seen it since it’s cinema release, yet recalled finding it overly confusing with a couple of stand out sequences.

mission impossible

Cruise, looking very young is Ethan Hunt, not quite the super-spy we  know him to be today but simply a special agent for a CIA division known as IMF.  Headed by John Voight, Hunt and his crew consisting of smouldering French beauty Emmanuelle Béart as well as former brat-packer Emillio Estefez must locate some stolen files that could leak the identities of a number of special agents into the wrong hands.  However during the mission, Cruise finds himself double-crossed and his team all but killed.  He’s then on the run and out to unmask the real culprit as his own innocence comes into question.

mi1Directed by one of my favourites, Brian De Palma (Carrie, Carlitio’s Way) and with a twisting, complex narrative … this stylish and very well filmed ‘espionage thriller’ seems at first worlds away from the action extravaganza the series is known for.  Yes, we hardly get any chases, fights or stunts for pretty much the entire run time.  This was therefore more closely based on the TV show, with a more ‘pure’ mission: impossible storyline and with a strong if somewhat arrogant turn from Cruise and good work from series stalwart Ving Rhames.  It is too complicated (but not that clever) and at times confusing, which marred my enjoyment, but with a very tense CIA headquarters break-in that has been parodied to death (but is still cool) and a stunning climax on the roof of a speeding train heading into the channel tunnel – this remains a good start to a franchise that has developed and (mostly) improved with every entry.  Oh and ‘that’ theme has never been better implemented.

The Blu-ray is a mixed bag.  The image quality at first appears impressive until I noticed some harsh edge enhancement and wider shots seriously lacked detail.  The bog-standard Dolby Digital 5.1 is serviceable but lacks some punch.  Thankfully then we do get some decent extras on this box-set re-issue such as a M.I. retrospective documentary, various featurettes, a documentary on Tom Cruise and photo galleries.  A lack of a commentary is a let-down but not surprising considering the fairly underwhelming treatment of the movie itself.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3 /5

(the Blu-ray)  2.5 /5

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation


Viewed – 03 August 2015  Cinema

Good to see that one of our most enduring Hollywood stars can still deliver a pulse-pounding action extravaganza even as he settles into his fifth decade on this planet.  Add to this the fact he does many of his own stunts, and actor Tom Cruise is the real deal, regardless of what some may think of him personally.

Rogue

Cruise plays super-agent Ethan Hunt who, currently in hiding and ‘gone rogue’ is trying to unmask the real identity of secret organization ‘the syndicate’ whilst back at Langley, CIA headquarters the big wigs are disbanding the IMF.  Following a lead in London, Hunt witnesses the murder of a contact and the revelation that those he believed he worked for may be involved in a global conspiracy.   Like Ghost Protocol before it, this is a confident and well directed spy movie full of fancy gadgets, intense action and lots of double-crossing.  Director Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher) has put together what feels like the Mission Impossible movie we’ve all been waiting for – the action feels bigger, the locations more diverse and glamorous (London, Paris, Vienna etc.) and the story seems more dramatic.  Add to this a wonderful discovery in actress Rebecca Ferguson, who may be the sexiest (and deadliest) femme-fatale we’ve had on screen in years, and with excellent comedic support from Simon Pegg – this almost has it all.

Rogue NationI felt that even for an M.I. movie, sometimes the stunts and situations got a little implausible (a somersaulting car?), and some moments were just plane mad (the admitedly tense under water sequence).  Also, creepy-demeanour aside, the villain was again like Ghost Protocol, rather one-dimensional.  It was a shame to also see Jeremy Renner not be fully utilized for such a gifted actor … but regardless, this was still a shot of adrenaline to the heart and packed full of memorable moments, an amazing car turned bike chase, and an ending that made me want to stand up and applaud.  With Spectre on the horizon, I’d say in the spy movie world, this is going to take some beating.

Over to you, Mr Bond.

Verdict:  4 /5