Friday, July 27, 2018

Mission: Impossible - Fallout

Spoiler-free!!

This is what happens when the people who work on a franchise respect the franchise. Each film stands alone, yet each new release still inspires fans to rewatch previous installments. The past is respected, but the agenda is always to move forward. And the films themselves... they never count on selling tickets by brand-name, but are hard and winning pieces of filmmaking; carefully crafted and assembled by talented people who push the envelope beyond the realm of the possible. In a world overflowing with franchises, Mission: Impossible stands alone.

How does it do it? Well, you could say it's in the job description.

I could spend all day talking about this franchise as a whole. How it's a trendsetter, how casting choices always give dramatic boosts to the actors' future careers as they cycle through, or how the films are contradictory; of an extremely high quality, but also mainstream action films made to entertain. Entertainment can get lost in the fray of making films into high art or a message to change the world, but entertainment has always been the goal of Tom Cruise, and he always seems to trust the continued creation of this, his baby, to artists who share his vision.

Christopher McQuarrie is the first M:I writer/director to stay on for two films, and as he's taken the series to a whole new level, the second one feels like an extra-deserved bonus round. From my perspective, Fallout is similar in construction pattern to Rogue Nation, but makes everything new again in the way a fresh director usually does. Under his direction, the creative action beats are even more relentless, thrilling, and involving. I'm not usually vocal during movies at the theater, but I was exclaiming things like, "Oh no!" or "Look out!" all over the place. Once I even pointed at the screen and told Ethan, "He's over there!"

It's either a death-wish or a contagious and daring desire to entertain.

McQuarrie crafted this movie intentionally that way, because what's the point of all those practical effects and stunts if it doesn't all engage with the viewers and keep them thrilled, amazed and eager for more? This isn't a character film, but the story is personal enough for the characters to let us care about the result, down to each small goal. This whole film feels like a series of impossible tasks that, when each is amazingly accomplished is a mere stepping stone to the next. Even the extended sequences are constructed that way, keeping boredom far, far away.

Tom Cruise is amazing. He does his own stunts, his own driving, motorcycle riding, helicopter-flying, and fist-fighting. He executes difficult skydiving maneuvers, and even breaks his foot and keeps going until the take is over. Still my favorite is always the running. There are few things that can be captured on film as thrilling as a tracking shot of Tom Cruise in a full sprint. At some point he even has some genuine acting to do, and at that point he's just showing off. And I hope Simon Pegg stays as long as Cruise does, because Benji is basically the heart and soul of these movies. He handles the comedy, and always gets something awesome to do too.

Tom always comes out at the center, but he's not afraid of sharing screen time or being overshadowed.

Rebecca Ferguson is back, still brimming with grace and power, and feels so settled into the team it would be sad if she left now. Ving Rhames is always a great addition, and this film uses him better than ever. Sean Harris was the one return I was hesitant about, but seeing how he was utilized, it all make sense now. Then we have newbie lady Vanessa Kirby. She's this movie's personification of one of the main reasons I adore this franchise as more than films, but as boosts for actors. She's a good actress in need of a step up and is given a spotlight to take advantage of. She does. She stuns with a joyfully sultry character.

And, Henry Cavill. He's more well-known already by mainstream audiences, because mainstream audiences always know who's playing Superman. But his M:I role still gives him the same kind of opportunity as it does Kirby -- even more so since his character is more prominent -- a chance to impress, and to show himself to be capable of more than he's known for. He knocks it out of the park, and I've never enjoyed him more. He was so perfectly irritating and pompous. I hope this can rocket him out to find new roles that are more fun and/or meaty than the dull, handsome hunk of meat.

I sense good things in this guy's future.

Some of the set pieces blew my mind, and I spent a lot of time full-on giggling at how awesome everything gets. With a very basic understanding of how the production works, the stunts and camerawork are awe-inspiring. Sometimes you might realize how hard that would've been to pull off, like the skydiving shot, and sometimes I was simply left agape, wondering how the heck they did that, like the first hurdle of the helicopter sequence. It feels real because, well, it kind of is. But the movie does have moments for you to catch your breath with small and intimate character scenes, too.

I barely noticed with how completely mind-boggled I was over the relentless action, but there were a few one-on-one talking scenes that were full of subtext and motivations and themes to explore -- just like any other movie that doesn't feel like non-stop running, fighting, and crazy death-defying stunts. And those scenes are every bit as alive and electric as the action, not functional plot-ties only, but engaging on a different level. There's not much emphasis on character, and the plot isn't overly-complex; but even in the backseat, the same wonderful, commendable devotion is applied all around.

What the heck.

There's no shortage of films that are carefully crafted to have artistic merit, and, there are no shortage of films that are meant to be entertaining. Mission: Impossible is the place where those two sides unexpectedly intersect. Fallout is an immaculate and artistic creation; three years in the making; worth nearly two-hundred million dollars; of massive scale and aggressive ambition; and it was built to do one thing, and one thing only -- knock your freaking socks off.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Lean on Pete

Spoiler-free!

Want to see the saddest, most wonderful movie ever? It's this one. A heartfelt and brutal coming of age tale, where Charley (Charlie Plummer) the teen son of an affectionate but neglectful single dad (Travis Fimmel), must find his way through a hard and cynical world when he's left alone.

How does he get by? He leans on Pete.

Written and directed by Andrew Haigh, based on a novel. Charley gets a job at a horse track run by Del (Steve Buscemi), who cheats and misuses his animals in his desperate attempts to keep afloat. There, Charley becomes attached to a failing racehorse called Lean on Pete, and worries for Pete's safety. He must also contend with drama at home, and when things go bad, and then worse, his own inherent aversion to accepting help from strangers, who only ever seem interested in interfering with his life. The movie observes as he tries to go it alone, only to be beat down by life every step of the way.

The plot's constant down-turning is heartbreaking, but never enters unconvincing territory. Disaster gets its due of foreshadowing, and bad choices made are also the most natural ones -- stemming from Charley's flawed mindset, and admirable sense of obligation. He does reprehensible things out of perceived necessity; regret and an inner war is clear, yet his goal drives him on. Adults and authorities can seem antagonistic and careless, but they have cares of their own. There's no black and white villainy; it's just Charley's stubborn and driven naivete, clashing with a jaded and immovable world.

The movie is wholly dedicated to showing us who he is, and what he wants, even when he can't articulate it.

Charlie Plummer owns this movie. Even as a young, up-and-coming talent, this kind of role is already familiar to him -- he's a coming-of-age pro. His repressed, moody air is perfect for the film's tone, as is his magnetic screen presence for the singular focus on character. I loved seeing the subtle tips of balance he gives between telling the truth, and lies. Sometimes he'll give an expression that reads like words as to what he's thinking; communicating so well physically, that you only need the dialogue as a kind of enhancing chaser. Although the dialogue is often magnificent in its simplicity and powerful subtext.

I was so zeroed in on him that I feel like I barely ever looked at supporting characters, though that was almost certainly intentional on the movie's part. It frames him so that we're always drawn to him, but also so we'll constantly search too, to see him better. The supporters are excellent too, though, especially Steve Buscemi, and Chloë Sevigny who plays Bonnie, a jockey working for Del. And Travis Fimmel's father is fascinatingly complex. They have moments of guidance for Charley, but one by one, they falter. Passing characters feel real, though they're exclusively there to affect Charley. We mainly see his reactions to them, not them.

The cinematography felt like art in and of itself. Those desert landscapes. 

In true indie style, the movie utilizes long takes with confidence and grace, adding to the impact of performances, and keeping the film grounded and natural. But the longer shots are also often on the move, so changing of angle and environment is still there to hold interest. Camera movements stay simple, and there's no finagling to force extra long length. Two minutes is about as long as they go, and only then in key scenes. One such scene I can't figure exactly how they did it, but that's spoiler territory. The story is conveyed visually, and of course, crafted to reflect back on Charley.

The whole movie is a journey to understanding him; a task both easy in individual moments, and complex in the over-arc. If you think it's strange I haven't mentioned much of titular character, that's because this film isn't about the horse, really. We care only that Charley cares about him, and ultimately, as Bonnie says, he's just a horse. Well, maybe not. He's a mirror through which we can see Charley, and a metaphorical crutch for Charley to lean on as he chases goals and runs from pain. In the end the story is about family and home; Charley, and his father; a character much absent, but always in mind.

"Sorry I can't give you more." "No, don't worry about it. This is... I don't need more."

The heavy nature of the plot, the emphasis on artistic tone, and the methodical pacing doesn't make this one easily accessible to viewers strictly out for a good fun time -- but for anyone who loves character study, coming of age dramas, and the individuality of personal indie films, Lean on Pete is a must see; one of those rare films that utilizes its every feature in immaculate harmony. Moving, hard, and honest, it never sinks into sentiment or melodrama, but stings to the core, moves to empathy, and, somehow, like the best of its kind, finds hope through it all. A wonderful beast, indeed.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Spoiler free!

Ant-Man and the Wasp's tonal separation from Infinity War saves it; and its universe connection destroys it. From the consequences of Civil War coming into play at the beginning and dictating the plot, to the how inconsequential it becomes in the shadow of this year's earlier monstrosity, it's restricted by its universe ties. But, as it is not a monstrosity of melodrama, it is, despite significant failings, still more superficially enjoyable than that universe-ending party that Scott Lang was somehow not invited to.

Dodged a bullet there, buddy. Probably literally.

The movie's most obvious saving grace is its hero, played by Paul Rudd, who, after this, I'm am fully convinced could carry 12 gallons of water in his hands without the use of a bucket. He can probably carry a tune in the vacuum of space; or the whole world if only he could get underneath it; and he absolutely carries this movie. He single-handedly saves at least five jokes from cringe territory, and even the jokes that wouldn't have face-planted without him, he still elevates, by being, you know, actually funny and charming. Rudd had a hand in the writing too, but the writing only hits on external appeal.

No one has character arcs in this. It's a nonstarter. But with Scott it doesn't matter because he's fun to be around even when he doesn't need to grow or learn something -- perhaps especially so. Same goes for his sidekicks, like Luis, who's so much the same that he even makes the same jokes over again. The crazy part is, it's still funny, because Michael Peña is the man. Bobby Cannavale got the biggest laugh of the whole movie, and sadly Judy Greer was saddled with some stinkers that would've challenged even Rudd. I enjoyed Randal Park, simply for being lighthearted and amusing when the opposite is what you'd expect.

Story-wise, this movie should've been Hope/Wasp's, but it only almost is.

Hank (Michael Douglas) and Hope (Evangeline Lilly) have the most drama going on, and I guess that's what was meant to pass for development. Most of the "progress" they make is things that were backtracked from their growth level of the last movie, and when they overcome it, they're only back where they started. This is mostly applicable to Hope. Hank's more like an echo of her, dramatically. The villain (Hannah John-Kamen) didn't have much potential to start with, but in the end, she only seemed to exist to pad out the run time. Of course, that could be said of the whole movie; pad out a run time, to make a movie, to pad out year time, until Captain Marvel and Avengers: And Now the Other Half gets here.

With what it's sandwiched between, there was little room for creativity. It had to end where it did, and it had to start where it did -- though I do take some issue with how it started. Most of the nonsense the film contains accumulates there. Without the nonsense, the story wouldn't exist. It's a sticky situation, so I sympathize, but there had to be a less paint-by-numbers way of doing this. Ant-Man movies bank on being small-time, but when scaled down, more focus on heart and meaning is required, not less. The story is spread thin over the separate needs of too many characters, and under the microscope, we never get a clear picture of anything, or anyone.

That's why Ant-Man came down to a tiny battle in Cassie's room -- she was all that mattered.

Visually, I've never seen a Marvel movie done so lazily. The action is the best the writing had to offer besides the dialogue (there actually were plenty of good jokes that didn't need Paul Rudd-delivery to work) -- but the sequences are filmed so normally. Remember in the first movie when Scott shrinks for the first time and everything's so otherworldly? That wonder is gone. They plow through action with the style of a lawnmower cutting overgrown grass, and only slow down when they literally slow down -- for a slow-mo shot. There's an extra visual kick, and then it's back to the lame gracelessness.

If I ever watch this again it will be for Rudd and that montage of him hanging out in his house by himself. The movie only irritated me two or three times, but otherwise gave out so little to hold on to, or invest in. I never cared about anything; the characters, their success, their failure; anything. All I cared about was when the next glimmer of fun was going to happen -- moments that were extra welcome in a Marvel movie, but never succeeded in brightening their surroundings. They would flash, and fade, along with my interest.

I guess I should've known Hawkeye wasn't going to be in this. Too good to be true.

Marvel is getting more mechanized by the minute, with less and less importance placed on the human touch. This one barely even attempts to be any kind of art -- it's just there. A movie. I'm sure there were good intentions, and the charm of the leading man, and some commendable humor choices do lend it a nice, distracting coat of paint. Too little, too late. Not tiny and laser-focused, not giant, sweeping and epic; Ant-Man and the Wasp is just average.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Incredibles 2

Spoilers!

The Pixar films that defined my childhood were Toy Story 1 and 2, Monsters Inc., and Finding Nemo. (I never got into A Bug's Life.) The Incredibles missed the cut-off by an inch. I liked it, but I never re and re and rewatched it on a cycle like those four. So, news of this long-awaited sequel wasn't so long-awaited for me. Instead it threatened to be like other sequels, marketing off previous success because the idea well has run dry. There were two promising aspects: the 14-years to work on it; and Brad Bird's return. And color me slightly less cynical than I was yesterday, because they pulled it off!

Pixar's best sequel since Toy Story 2.

Incredibles 2 matches its predecessor. It picks up right where it left off, (and gets the extra advantage that I haven't seen the original in a while) and has the same tone, purpose, structure, and ideas driving it as the original. Another long-await sequel, Toy Story 3 was fine, but felt disconnected from the other two, being more a nostalgia trip that veered into melodrama too many times. Not to hate on it, but the point is, Incredibles 2 feels as valid a sequel today as it might've felt in 2006. If they purposefully added nostalgia, it doesn't get in the way, and feels totally organic.

It started off on shaky ground, forced to revert a bit of the happy ending of the last film because the sequel starts up immediately with fighting The Underminer. They fail of course, not working as a family. Their interference actually causes more destruction than if they'd left Underminer to himself, reestablishing why supers are illegal in this story. The politics are like Civil War, but simplified, and both sides are clear and understandable, though we know the right thing is for them to be made legal again. Much better than the convoluted illogical mess of Civil War in a fraction of the time!

I love her bike and the way they have her use it!

After that things plod along, gaining momentum as the movie finds its feet. By the time Bob encourages Helen to take the secret Super job even though he's jealous of her, the feet are found and steady, and the rest of the movie falls into place. My favorite part was the whole middle section before the end game began. The train chase sequence knocked my socks off with originality and reminded me of what animation can do. And the home life was all wonderful, especially because of how hard Bob tries, keeping his head and putting in extra effort like staying up to learn Dash's homework.

Everyone said Jack-Jack was the highlight. Usually that kind of talk means a 50% chance I'll think the opposite because I despise pointless distractions, but Jack-Jack really was a highlight, and he was meant to be. The fight between him and the raccoon was hilarious, and the discovery and testing of all his powers is the kind of behind-the-scenes thing that made the first film so special too. Unfortunately, they had to start all over with Violet and Tony, so Violet's drama felt like retracing old steps. She's my favorite, so I would've liked to see much more progression there.

I love that at home they have a natural up and down instead of full chaos which would've been easier. Bob's a great dad.

The villain twist wasn't a total surprise; I was just glad that it wasn't as projected as I was worried it was. I did wonder at Elastigirl though, when she thought she caught the ScreenSlaver and the guy was clearly just another of his victims. The real villain's motivations worked well. Another classic case of a sympathetic idea taken way too far until it reaches villainy. She was nothing special, but got the plot where it needed to go. The sequence on the ship was where the film starts to stumble, though it never outright falls. Once no one's under mind-control anymore, everything picks back up and finishes in spectacular fashion.

Random details I really enjoyed: Dash's powers. I love how he fights, by machine-gunning people with his punches. The comedy. It fell in so naturally with the story and had me hooting many times. Jack-Jack was a laugh a second, and there were many subtle jokes and perfectly timed looks that were an absolute pleasure. Mr. Incredible has some delivery well worthy of his name. I also like how Elastigirl is the most marketable super, because she really is the most marketable. There's a reason that train chase worked so well. Her powers were used so creatively.

Never forget: The mundane is fascinating when Supers do it! 

So, here's hoping that in the next film we can see the whole family working together for a good, solid block of time; that they won't forget about the novelty of Super home life; that Violet will get back to her date before the movie starts; and that they'll take as much time as they need regarding Incredibles 3. If they give as much devotion and effort as they did here, it'll be worth whatever the wait-time might be.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Upcoming Movie Roundup - July

Okay! Last month I got out to see Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom as expected, and I will be seeing Incredibles 2 later today! Fallen Kingdom was pretty dumb. Dumber than I expected in fact -- but it had solid elements to it, and I expect I'll watch it again someday, if only for that one scene that unintentionally made me belly-laugh. Read my review here!

I got around to seeing Solo, despite warnings, and yeah, it's not good. But it's the kind of not good you can enjoy if you're not offended by how literally the story takes the existing Star Wars canon while simultaneously destroying it with some of the stupidest ideas I've ever heard of in my life. Review here!

Not a great year for the Howards.

And I caught up on some of the artsy film releases of earlier in the year -- Annihilation, (review) which I didn't care for, but it was fine; no shade if you loved it -- and Thoroughbreds (review) which I did love. I think about it a lot.

Summer's in full swing and there's not an overwhelming amount of new releases this month! If all goes according to plan I'll be seeing two of them in theaters. What are your movie plans for for July? Stay cool out there!


The First Purge
July 4th; R
Believe it or not, I've seen all the Purge movies so far. And I actually liked... one... of them. Or was it two? I dunno, but Frank Grillo's character is fun. I was super excited for the last one expecting it to be real dumb in a fun way because of the parallel's it seemed to draw with the 2016 election... but it wound up being all those things except the fun part. This one is even more political, and almost certainly even more toxic, so I'm probably done. Until it can be watched for free and then maybe. We'll see how high my curiosity gets, but without Frank... not promising.




Ant-Man and the Wasp
July 6th; PG-13
Man. I have never felt so ho-hum about a Marvel movie. I almost don't even want to see it -- but I already have tickets because I have a Marvel Fan for a brother. He, the Rotten Tomatoes score, and my pathetic hopes and dreams keep saying to me, "But what if it's actually good?" And to that I say: Then I'll have a real nice surprise I guess. I expect I'll enjoy it (as it's a comedy and therefore hopefully not a complete slog) more than Infinity War, but, man. The Marvel fatigue is for real right now. Still, I do my duty. They promised me Hawkeye and it had better be more than a cameo!




Skyscraper
July 13th; PG-13
What's this movie about? *watches trailer* Oh. Okay. Because of the poster I had the impression that The Rock spends most of the movie trying to get inside. But I see. As far as Rock action flicks go, this looks like it's on the higher scale of potential. Like a scifi-ish Die Hard knock-off. It would probably be more my thing if it wound up being laughably bad. But then again, Jumanji was a Rock action flick and it was awesome!




The Night Eats the World
July 13; TV-14
The water buckets collecting rain water on the roof of the building reminds me of 28 Days Later, which makes this movie seem like if 28 Days Later was just the part where they're hiding out in the apartment, which makes me think I'd enjoy watching this.




A Midsummer Night's Dream
July 13th; NR
I have a ubersoft soft spot for Shakespeare adaptations that keep the language but set the story in modern day. So count me in -- no other reason needed. I did notice that Fran Kranz is in the cast though. He was in Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing and is generally pretty awesome.




The Equalizer 2
July 20th; NR
I don't exactly remember much of the first Equalizer movie, but I definitely remember liking the first Equalizer movie -- and that, plus this trailer, is good enough for me!




Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!
July 20th; PG-13
Say the title with a sarcastic inflection. Yet, I'm kinda excited too. I hope it's as dumb and cheesy as it looks. They'd just better not rehash all the songs. I will be mad.




Mission: Impossible - Fallout
July 27th; (NR, but probably PG-13)
What is there even to say about this? It's Mission: Impossible, and has consistently been one of my top anticipated movies for the past three years! Tom Cruise is back to do dangerous things for our entertainment; my favorite Simon Pegg is back; the dark horse wonder woman from Rogue Nation Rebecca Ferguson is back; and the director who upped the anti in this impossibly crazy franchise, Christopher McQuarrie is back! No Jeremy Renner, but that's the nature of the franchise. New additions are Henry Cavill (with the infamous mustache) and Vanessa Kirby who I love. I'm ready. If this disappoints me I will never love again -- so don't let me down team! (With a trailer that looks like this I don't see how they could.)




Hot Summer Nights
July 27th; R
This movie looks so stylish I could watch it for that reason alone. All retro and neon. And I love the movie Charlie Bartlett so I guess I can't say anything about it being a teenage coming-of-age film where the main character deals drugs. I also saw Lady Bird a bit ago, so I can say I like Timothee Chalamet's acting abilities, and I definitely like Maika Monroe... so I guess I'm on board. Depends on how the plot goes as to if I'll like it or not.