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Jim Schembri’s New Release Movie Reviews – Mon 30 Jul, 2018

Jim Schembri

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT ****1/2 (147 minutes) M

Film franchises may rise and fall in quality, but it now seems Mission Impossible will just keep on going from strength to strength if the thrilling big-screen joyride of this latest adventure is anything to go by.

As a loving nod to surviving fans of Bruce Geller’s classic TV series, Mission Impossible: Fallout opens with a nostalgic touch featuring the old self-destructing reel-to-reel tape recorder that kicked off each episode by delivering the team’s mission – should they decide to accept it, of course.

Here, the gig it delivers to Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise, as if you didn’t know) and his IMF (Impossible Mission Force, as if you didn’t know) is to track down and secure three big baubles of plutonium and so prevent them from getting into the hands of a particularly nasty villain. Admittedly, it’s a chestnut of a plot that seems designed to acknowledge the franchise’s debt to Bond.

From there, buckle up as Fallout catapaults you on a propulsive ride through the white-knuckle rapids of a fast-moving plot that offers a near-perfect blend of old-school cliffhanger movie aesthetics with state of the art filmmaking technology.

Studded with some truly extraordinary sequences, Cruise is centre-frame for some truly gasp-inducing sequences, including a stunning footchase across London roof tops that the camera sometimes strains to keep up with.

For good measure, there’s also an extended motorcycle chase, a twirling car chase, a throat tightening sky dive and a breathless helicopter finale. These more than make up for one of the mistakes of the previous film, Rogue Nation, where Cruise did his headlining stunt before the opening credits.

Though working with the world’s biggest movie star, director Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher; Rogue Nation) is careful to keep the ensemble vibe crackling among the cast, which include regulars Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames along with Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris (great as the bad guy), Michelle Monaghan, Angela Bassett (where has she been?) and Henry Cavill.

Best-known for Superman, Cavill is a particular delight as a dubious tower of cartoonish menace. He sports a classic porn-movie moustache and does a fab job as a suss CIA interloper whose job is to watch over how the Mission Impossible crew operates, with his eyes especially trained on Hunt.

Amidst all the mandatory mayhem, McQuarrie wisely inserts a few well-judged grace notes to ground the adventure with a touch of humanity, the best being Hunt’s encounter with an anonymous French police officer. It’s a device often used by directors (Quentin Tarantino; John Woo; Ben Affleck; Simon West; Michael Bay) to inject a glint of perspective into an otherwise busy action scene.

Though the film maintains the style of the series there is a noticeable Bourne influence with some of the kinetic cinematography; as in previous MI films,  McQuarrie also turns off the orchestra occasionally to let the grinding of machines and the chatter of automatic weapons provide the soundtrack.

And given how so much of the MI action is predicated on elaborate set ups that don’t quite work – equipment fails; people get away; jumps don’t quite make it, etc – this just adds to the volumes of tension already there.

In all, this is rock-solid, sure-fire entertainment. As far action cinema goes, it joins Bourne, the Fast and the Furious, Transformers and the Dark Knight trilogy as a franchise setting the pace in the 21st century.

 

THE EQUALIZER 2 **** (121 minutes) MA

Without any noticeable shift in his cold-fire demeanour, Denzel Washington calmly saunters back into his no-nonsense role as Robert McCall, the self-appointed angel of justice who rights wrongs with brutal force when not driving his Lyft hire car around the streets of Boston.

Thankfully, there’s no messing with the formula that made the 2014 film, based on the classic 1980s Edward Woodward TV series, such a huge hit. Director Antoine Fuqua, who steered Washington to his Best Actor Oscar for Training Day (2001), is back, as is the pungency of righteous revenge that motivates McCall.

Sweetening things this time around is his relationship with a local teen called Miles (Ashton Sanders, from Moonlight), a kid wth a good heart who is in danger of getting tied up with the wrong crowd. McCall knows precisely what that crowd is like and so uses it to formulate a memorable life lesson for his young charge.

As is Fuqua’s style, the film’s spurts of violence are accompanied with arguably excessive amounts of blood. There is a disturbing vivdness to some scenes, but it is Washington’s compelling presence throughout that makes this such a solid, value-driven action thriller.

If there is a main difference from the previous film, it’s the up-dialling of old-school religious values. The magnificently tense finale, which takes place in an evacuated coastal town about to be torn apart by a hurricane – echoes to classic westerns and Phil Noyce’s A Clear and Present Danger abound – has so many religious references it’s hard to keep count.

Such symbolism might be there for those looking for them, still they do not distract Washington fans from enjoying the film for the high-end, cathartic thriller it is. More is surely to come.

 

THE WIFE *** (100 minutes) M

Jonanthan Pryce and Glenn Close spark off each other in a dramatically rich film about marital discord and the perils of creative inspiration.

Pryce plays Joe Castleman, an author who embarks on an ego-massaging trip to Sweden when he is told he is to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Along for the ride amidst all the sycophancy is his wife Joan (Close). She believes she is the only one who knows the truth beneath all the ceremonial brown-nosing until she encounters keen-as-beans author Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater) who is doing an unauthorised tell-all biography of Joe.

With the aid of some romantic flashbacks the veils of secrecy are slowly drawn back as we witness talent collide with creative passion.

The film, directed with a fine eye for irony by Swedish filmmaker Bjorn Runge, is a marvellous performance showcase for Pryce and Close, two veterans whose around-the-block credentials shine brightest in the film’s quieter moments.

 

WHITNEY **** (120 minutes) M

Hot on the heels of the lauable Nick Broomfield documentary Can I Be Me comes another very good, very detailed, very depressing feature-length deep dive into the marvellously calculated rise and heart-breaking downfall of singer Whitney Houston.

The chief advantage with Kevin Macdonald’s absorbing profile is that the film is “authorised” by Houston’s estate, which allowed him access to private footage and to those who were closest to Houston, including husband Bobby Brown.

Embedded in the chronicle is the life and fate of daughter Bobbi Kristina, whose promising life was bound by the combination of global success and substance abuse that came to define Houston’s life. That her tale of potential denied so closely reflects her mother’s makes these sequences especially painful to watch.

Whichever way you cut it, the lifestyle Houston lead as a superstar was exceptional, brilliant and tragic, full of human leeches, hangers on and enablers who took advantage of a good-hearted woman whose generosity of spirit might have been her greatest flaw.

As well as being a noted feature filmmaker – the Oscar-winning The Last King of Scotland (2006; Forest Whitaker, Best Actor), State of Play (2009) and Black Sea (2014) – Macdonald is a distinguished doco-maker, with a CV that boasts the Oscar-winning One Day in September (1999), Touching the Void (2003), Life in a Day (2011) and Marley (2012).

With Whitney he again plumbs into the soul of his subject to reveal fresh perspectives on known events along with revelations long hidden from view, all shaped by his skills as a cinematic storyteller.

As far as cautionary tales go, Houston’s joins a long line that includes Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Amy Whinehouse and Janis Joplin. The film sanguinely  captures the razor’s edge of planetary fame, as well as the long-term consequences of childhood trauma. It’s a must-see for anyone with even a passing interest in the Whitney Houston story.

Jim Schembri
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