Lambcast 437: Mission Impossible Fallout

MI6

https://podomatic.com/embed/html5/episode/8856104?autoplay=false

A little late and out of sequence, but here is the link to the podcast for those of you who do not subscribe to the Lambcast.

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Lambcast MOTM Snakes on a Plane

https://podomatic.com/embed/html5/episode/8859401?autoplay=false

snakes

https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/lambcast/episodes/2018-08-05T22_00_00-07_00

 

Celebrate Jay’s birthday by climbing aboard Pacific Air Flight 121, for the ride of your life.

 

The Meg

So i have been away from a movie theater for a couple of weeks and I have missed some films that I hope to catch up with soon. This weekend’s big release is something that I did look forward to, so as soon as I got the chance this weekend, I took a dive into South Pacific waters, along with Jason Statham, in search of “The Meg”. Director Jon Turteltaub is not so much of an auteur as he is an audience serving professional. The story of a giant, pre-historic shark suddenly being let loose on the world doesn’t call for a cinematic light touch. It demands that you push the right popcorn buttons, and as the guy who brought us the two National Treasure movies, Mr. Turteltaub seems to be a good fit.

In terms of entertainment value for your summer dollars, which Hollywood depends on, “The Meg” is on a par with the recent Dwayne Johnson vehicle “Skyscraper“. In fact, I was thinking of another comparison when this came to mind. Back in the 1970s, Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood were regular faces on the silver screen, especially in the summertime. Both of those guys had big charisma that carried films that were not always great but were worthy because of their presence in them. Burt had a whole host of summer films in the 70s ; “The Longest Yard“, “W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings“, “Smokey and the Bandit“.  Clint of course was the cowboy of the 70s but his summer output included films; “The Eiger Sanction“, “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” as well as “The Outlaw Josey Wales“.  Together, those two icons dominated several of the summers of my youth. In forty years. this generation will look back on the films off Statham and Johnson in a similar way. Although Dwayne Johnson is the natural heir to the Schwarzenegger/Stallone mantle, he has a comedic persona that those two never managed to quite get, despite “Kindergarten Cop”.  Statham is more closely connected to the Charles Bronson mold of tough guy. What I think is effective for both Statham and Johnson is that they appear in a variety of films but their persona and personality are what makes the movies work. That’s why I like the analogy to Reynolds and Eastwood. “The Meg” is Jason Statham’s summer film an the same way that “Skyscraper” is Johnson’s entry for the hot season.

Fortunately, Jason Statham’s tough guy facade is just right for this movie. He is a reluctant deep sea rescue expert who gets called upon to effect a rescue that he wants nothing to do with. Just like Bruce Willis in “Die Hard” and Johnson in “Skyscraper”, Statham’s character Jonas is the right guy in the wrong place at the right time. While he is not required to spin kick the shark in the face, he actually does end up going toe to fin with it at the climax of the movie. In a sort of Ahab with kung fu skills moment, Statham manages to make the completely ridiculous seem reasonable and fun. That is why they hired him. He does get some chances to act as well but since the rest of the story is paper thin, you are not going to pay much attention to any of that.

The film riffs on several elements from other shark based movies. “Jaws” has the greatest number and the most obvious tribute/ripoff moments. When the Megalodon does make it to a beach, there is a whinny kid who wants to go swimming, a frustrated mother, a selfish guy willing to roll over others in trying to escape from the shark and even a dog named Pippen, just a switched consonant away from the sacrificial dog of that great film.  We also have a pig headed billionaire, who has financed the project which brings the Megladon to the surface. Rainn Wilson may not have Samuel Jackson’s vocabulary. but he does have a similar story line to the one in “Deep Blue Sea”. There is also an L.L. Cool J stand in with moments of comic relief.

This movie does not aspire to be an adventure film like “Jaws” was. It is closer to the action film of “Deep Blue Sea”, with a science fiction component and a “Jurassic Park” mindset. There is a little bit of lip service paid to the notion of man screwing up Mother Nature, but frankly Winston Chao is no Jeff Goldblum and the screenwriters are not collaborating with Steven Spielberg for character ideas. This is a simple movie that is closer to the chase the victim plot of “Jaws 2” than the man aginst nature brutality of the original “Jaws”. Plus Jason Statham can swim and beat up a shark a thousand times bigger than him. Extra butter on the popcorn will help. I chose to see this in 3-D, because if you are going for the cheese, you might as well add the mayonnaise.

 

Mission Impossible: Fallout

When I mentioned at one point that this was the film I was most looking forward too this summer, I received some verbal shrugs of the shoulder from a few fellow bloggers. An attitude that I simply cannot fathom. This series has been consistently excellent in my point of view, and the fact that Tom Cruise is the driving force behind the production seems to irritate some people. The internet is full or terrible things but most of the film sites I visit have rational people offering reasons for their love or hate of a particular film. So it was a surprise to me to see this comment on one of the blog posts I visited this week,

”  I have no interest in watching some aging dinosaur doing stupid stunts just to prove that he’s still got it. If he wants to impress me, why doesn’t he just jump off of a f#@king cliff and f#@king die?”

Does that seem a little harsh to you? It did to me. There is apparently a lot of Tom Cruise hate out there, not too far under the surface.

So before I begin my discussion of the film, let me make a brief defense of Mr. Cruise. Regardless of his personal life, he has always been a professional. He works hard at putting on screen, those things that he thinks will make a film better for the audience. To use the vernacular of the author of this note, I’d rather see an aging star who gives a damn about the quality of his film, perform a practical stunt, than watch a pretty boy flavor of the month, dangle in front of a green screen, trying to sell something that they look down on in the first place.

As a producer on these films, Cruise has been responsible for employing thousands of behind the scenes technical crafts people. The creative types from cinematographers, writers, stunt coordinators and directors, have all been given an amazing canvas to work on. Maybe the results are not always pretty to everyone. That is your prerogative and taste. I do think however dismissing it as “stupid” and assuming that the star is trying to impress you may be off target a bit. What is completely off target however is wishing death to someone because of your petulant views. OK, end of rant.

“Fallout” is the sixth film in this franchise, and I think you will find that most objective viewers will say that since the second film, they have gotten steadily better. A couple of things that help make that true are the continuing inclusions of new characters that allow conflict, humor or more emotional spark in the film. Since Simon Pegg came on board in “MI:III “, he has become more than just the comic relief and his character is more integral to the teams mission. Jeremy Renner, who made two appearances in the series, but is sadly missing here, also added some gravitas to the proceedings while providing a completely different form of humor.

The two most recent additions from the previous film to this one are Rebecca Ferguson as MI:6 operative Ilsa Faust, who provides a counterpart to Cruise for  skill, action and wits. In addition, there is a nice hint of romance that is not oversold like it is a Bond film. In this movie she represents the B plotline that is at odds with Ethan Hunt’s objective for the story. Because her character is capable, it makes the action and events seem more interesting and complicated. Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Fishburne and Tom Wilkinson all made one off appearances in the series, so it was nice to get some payoff from having Alec Baldwin return for a second episode. As a reluctant and judgmental ally and Superior to Hunt’s IMF group, Baldwin gets a chance to play both sides a bit and ultimately be played as well. I sort of enjoy the coincidence in Angela Bassett as the new C.I.A. chief, it’s as if Tina Turner is stepping into Ike’s shoes with Fishburne out of the picture. It is likely that if there are future installments in this franchise, she will return.

The plot is as complicated as these things usually get. A dangerous macguffin is out in the open and must be recovered by the team. Of course no path is straight and this plot develops an interesting twist by requiring that a previous villain be exchanged for the missing “dangerous item in a suitcase”. This puts Ethan and the team in an awkward position that ultimately creates a very ironic twist to the story.

To get though all of this, we get several incredible action sequences. There is a terrific, over the top hand to hand combat fight in a glittering white bathroom. Ethan and his team have to improvise a heist in the middle of the picture, so that he can sleep at night. The screenwriter/director Christopher McQuarrie injects some morality issues into this spy shoot em up, through a couple of nightmare sequences that visualize for us the qualms Ethan has about the choices he makes. The Tom Cruise haters will point to several chase scenes as proof that it is all about Tom as he rides a motorcycle like a bat out of hell or jumps from one building to another while doing the traditional Tom Cruise running. Those actions are not just to make Cruise look good, every spy film has chases and acts of derring do which put us in with the hero.

Henry Cavill and his mustache, take a break from the D.C. Universe to play a mysterious C.I.A. enforcer, foisted on the mission by the new DCIA. He looks good in a fight and not much effort was made to hide the fact that he is substantially taller than the star. His addition to the team suggests that not all the competent field agents have the temper for some of the delicate work that has to be done. The helicopter chase and battle that are the climax of the picture go a long way in showing that no one here is really a Superman, they all are vulnerable to a lot more than kryptonite. Ethan Hunt may have tried to bury his weakness, but it does get exploited well at the climax of the film.

“Mission Impossible: Fallout” owes most of it’s success to producer and star Tom Cruise. The film is not perfect, after all there are some plot-holes and lucky coincidences, but you never really care about that. This is a film that wants to keep you on the edge of your seat and it manages that nicely for all the two and a half hours of it’s running time. OK, maybe Cruise should be sure to send part of his profit participation to Lalo Schifrin, who created the iconic theme that sells this movie in the trailer, the titles and the end credits. I’d be willing to defend a proposition that it is the single greatest piece of theme music ever.

Jaws In Concert: Part 2 of the 2018 Jaws Posts

Every year we manage to cross paths with some special screening of our favorite film, the Spielberg Masterpiece “Jaws”.  I’ve managed to see this movie on the big screen dozens of times and I never tire of it. Last night was another example of finding a special way to celebrate the film. This was “Jaws in Concert”, but not only are we getting a live orchestral accompaniment, we are getting it in the most beautiful setting imaginable, The Hollywood Bowl on a summer night.

Since this is primarily a concert, it seems right to focus on this “Jaws” related post, on the music of John Williams as used in the film. The shark them is famously simple and even more famously iconic. In two notes, people know the film reference and they are looking around for a fin. Surprisingly, the theme is used almost as sparingly as the shots of the mechanical shark. After the initial attack on Chrissie during her moonlight swim, we hear it once more when Alex Kintner is attacked, and then moodily substituting as the two inept fisherman go trolling with the holiday roast.

The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra had some long on stage breaks because the first half of the film is filled with ambient noise, things like ; kids playing on a beach, radios on baseball or top forty stations, or motorboats speeding across the ocean, trying to cutoff another motorboat chumming for the shark.

There are other themes in the film of course, but they are often forgotten when people think of this movie. As The Orca sails off to her destiny there is a slightly ominous movement. When she is chasing down the shark, there is a joyful exuberance in the music as we follow the vessel and the three excited men who think they are getting the upper-hand.  As Quint is laying out the tragedy of the USS Indianapolis, at first there is silence and mere ambient ocean background. As the story builds, the music is layered in very subtlety and the story is darker as a result. You are probably aware that the film is two hours long and never had an intermission. A concert experience is different however. the crowd needs a chance to stand up after picnicking and listening to the first hour plus of the movie and the orchestra needs to break as well.

The start of the final act where we pick up after the break, involves Chief Brody chumming off the back of the boat. The first up-close sighting of the shark comes a few minutes later and Williams has a great jump scare chord ready for us. The two big jumps scares in the film continue to work to this day, even when people know they are coming. I still saw 12,000 people bounce out of their seats when poor Ben Gardner makes his final appearance, and Brody utters the one swear word in the movie and before we can laugh, the collective breath of 12,000 people could be heard being sucked in.

The whole evening was a spectacle at times. Early on, Jaws related clothing was rare, but as the amphitheater filled in, more and more indicators of fandom could be observed.

Here early and dressed for the occassion
The Number One Fan of this Movie
Just before the national Anthem
This is why you let Polly do the printing.

This event ran two nights, which means about 30,000 people came out to see a 43 year old film and paid top dollar to hear the fantastic music played by a live orchestra. That is all the proof you will need to show that “Jaws” is a true classic.

I hope all of you get an opportunity to see a movie you love, in a setting like this, with the special extra that we got. Until then, you can remain a little jealous.

A little extra flourish to send you on your way.

The Equalizer II / EQ2

Let’s face it, the review for this is simple. Denzel is at his stone cold best killing people who deserve to die. If you want that, here it is.  That’s it.

OK, as much as I want to leave it with the above couple of sentences, there really is more to the movie and it is worth talking about. If all you are looking for is a recommendation, see above. Mr. Washington is back as former government operative Robert McCall. He is a man with deadly skills who is putting them to use in the most productive ways he can think of. The 2014 film was something of an origin story, if like this film, you can see this character as a superhero. In my original review of that film, I suggested that this is an inversion of a horror story, but I think the superhero metaphor is apt if a little too on the nose.

There are several episodic sections of the film where we get a chance to see the hero/monster McCall in action. He rescues a stolen child, avenges an abused woman and draws a line for a local drug network. We also see him engaging with people on a superficial but empathetic level. The TV show used classified ads in a newspaper to find people who needed help. At the end of the last film, it sounded like we were going to connect with the downtrodden on line. Those approaches disappear in this film. Mr. McCall is working as a Lyft driver and he seems to happen onto the people who need help. Maybe it is an interesting twist, maybe it sheds the string that held the tv series together, neither matters. What happens in this story is a trip to the past for the character. The one friend that he kept from his time as a government asset, gets involved in s plot which we never quite know anything about, and trouble ensues.

Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo return as the one set of friends Mac has, and they are knee deep in some kind of nefarious activity that is not authorized by the agency but does turn out to have some connections. Pedro Pascal is introduced as Robert’s former partner, who provides some assistance in investigating the events that turn McCall loose. No other characters from the first film return but there is another mentor relationship in the film that gives Denzel a chance to be the kind of father he wasn’t in “Fences”. Two or three other people are going to benefit from his largess as well. So like Robin Hood, McCall is taking from some to give to others. It is not profitable, but it seems to sooth his guilty soul from time to time.

Duplicity is inherent in films like this. The one thing that makes the betrayal in this story tolerable is that we get a chance to see a bit of the life of the betrayer. Another film would ignore this aspect of a story, or try to turn it into a subplot in some way. Here it is presented as a casual piece of character development that makes you wish even more that the reality of the backstabbing were not true.  Usually, all we get is the bad guy’s rationalization for his or her actions. The unique part of this story is the mundane way of life the villain seems to lead. You might even feel sorry for the character as you empathize with those who will be hurt by what has to happen. Director Antoine Fuqua and writer Richard Wenk have added a bit of character to the film that makes it step up from the shoot’em up that this really is.

Sometimes the plot is murky. There are characters that get taken out pretty quickly, and maybe before we really get a sense of what is going on. It may not matter that we don’t quite understand how the dominoes started falling in the plot mechanism, but it felt noticeable to me.  It doesn’t really matter however because plenty of people die at Denzel’s hands and he knows how to convey cold-hearted justice. He is smart, brutal and efficient, just like this movie.