Angela Bassett

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018, Christopher McQuarrie)

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is two and a half hours of almost constant, continuous action. There’s an opening sequence to set things up–Tom Cruise botches a mission because he likes his sidekicks too much (and who wouldn’t like Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg, who make a fantastic pair in the film). He gets in dutch not with boss Alec Baldwin (who can barely maintain his man crush on Cruise) but with Angela Bassett, who’s the CIA boss. Cruise and company are IMF, which stands for Impossible Mission Force. Oddly, even though Henry Cavill (as Bassett’s CIA muscle who tags along to babysit Cruise) makes fun of the Mission: Impossible “let’s wear masks and pretend to be bad guys” thing, he doesn’t make fun of the Impossible Mission Force name.

Maybe writer (and director) McQuarrie only wanted to go so far with it.

So even though Cruise has botched the opening mission, Bassett’s willing to let him go off and try to save the world from rogue secret agents who want plutonium. Sadly they don’t need it to get 1.21 gigawatts, they need it to set off nuclear bombs and destabilize the world as we know it. As long as he takes Cavill along.

Bassett describes Cruise as a scalpel and Cavill as a hammer, but it’s more like Cruise is a hammer and Cavill is a jackhammer. Cavill towers over Cruise, making their scenes together in the first act all the more impressive because Cruise maintains the upper hand. Not hogging the screen acting-wise, but in terms of being the more dominating ideology. Cruise is a good secret agent, Cavill is an immaculately groomed thug. Cruise is fairly immaculate as well, but he gets dirty. Not too dirty; whoever was in charge of maintaining their hair during action scenes deserves some kind of special Oscar. Secret agents have great hair.

Pegg, Baldwin, and Bassett included. Rhames is shaved bald. And when British secret agent and former Cruise and company member Rebecca Ferguson shows up a little while into the film, she too has great hair. Only Sean Harris, as the villain, doesn’t have great hair. He’s wild and unkempt. He’s an ex-secret agent who wants to destroy the world. Cruise stopped him once and, in Fallout, now has to decide whether or not to potentially free Harris to get back that plutonium.

The film stays in Europe for most of the story, with the biggest sequences in Paris and London. The finale heads to rural Central Asia, where director McQuarrie proves just as adept at mounting phenomenal action sequences as he does in European metropolises. McQuarrie never lingers too long on landmarks, but he’s always aware of the architecture. There’s lots of Cruise in long shot, running through a building (or across the top of one) and great scenic backdrops. It’s charming. And always perfectly paced. McQuarrie’s direction, more than his script, more than any of the performances, makes Fallout. He gets the film set up, gets it moving, and runs it to the finish. He never races–Fallout’s pacing (especially for a two and a half hour movie) is outstanding. McQuarrie has some twists, but he’s also just got good plot developments.

He’s also able to use dream sequences–albeit ones with visions of nuclear destruction–to do a lot of Cruise’s character development. Though, really, Fallout doesn’t have much character development. Not for anyone else, anyway. Pegg’s got a tiny personal subplot about being more self-confident and Ferguson’s sort of got one but not really. Like Rhames doesn’t have any. Neither does Cavill. He’s there to be a foil. There’s not time for character development. There’s plutonium out there and Cruise’ll be damned if he’s going to let anyone get hurt.

All of Cruise’s dream sequence character development involves guilt over how he ruined ex-wife Michelle Monaghan’s life by being a secret agent, forcing her into hiding. Monaghan’s a memory in Fallout, someone offscreen in danger to give Cruise something constant to fret about. McQuarrie doesn’t give Cruise any angst to deal with, just the dream sequences haunting him. Harris haunts him too, because Harris knows Cruise too well. It’s impressive how well McQuarrie integrates it into the film since Fallout’s always moving. Even when Rhames has to tell Ferguson about Monaghan because Ferguson is sweet on Cruise and thinks Cruise might just be sweet on her, which leads to a lovely scene in Paris in a park. McQuarrie is sparing with the quiet moments, but they’re always exceptional. They’re so well-executed, technically speaking, it lets him get away with the script being a little saccharine.

Baldwin’s not the only one with a man crush on Cruise; McQuarrie’s pretty smitten too. Cruise isn’t just a good guy, he’s the only good guy who can save the world. It’d be eye-rolling if the film didn’t make such a successful argument for it.

All the acting is fine or better. Vanessa Kirby, as a blue blood heiress arms dealer, gets a little grating, but she’s an arms dealer. She’s not really supposed to be too sympathetic.

Cruise is good. He’s got some really fun moments, not just the action stuff, but also the action stuff. He and Ferguson’s gentle flirtation is likable, just like he and Cavill’s muted hostility is entertaining. Rhames and Pegg are both fun. Harris is a good villain. Cavill’s good, though probably has the worst character in the film. McQuarrie never quite gives him enough and sometimes too little. Especially in the third act. Same with Ferguson; she’s got her own subplot–aside from the Cruise crush–and McQuarrie kind of chucks it once she fully teams up with Cruise and company. Actually, there’s enough of a logic leap with her character… maybe some scene got cut.

On the technical side, Fallout’s excellent. Rob Hardy’s photography is good, Eddie Hamilton’s editing is great. Lorne Balfe’s score is quite good; he’s sparing when integrating the Lalo Schifrin theme and always right on when does (or doesn’t) use it.

Fallout’s a superior large-scale, stunt-filled, action picture. It’s more thrilling than ever a thriller–in the third act, even the good guys can’t really be in any life-threatening danger because franchise, McQuarrie is still able to make every moment rivet. Fallout is a spectacular action spectacle.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie; screenplay by McQuarrie, based on the television series created by Bruce Geller; director of photography, Rob Hardy; edited by Eddie Hamilton; music by Lorne Balfe; production designer, Peter Wenham; produced by Tom Cruise, McQuarrie, Jake Myers, and J.J. Abrams; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Henry Cavill (Walker), Ving Rhames (Luther), Simon Pegg (Benji), Rebecca Ferguson (Ilsa), Vanessa Kirby (White Widow), Michelle Monaghan (Julia), Alec Baldwin (Hunley), Angela Bassett (Sloan), Wes Bentley (Patrick), Liang Yang (Lark), Kristoffer Joner (Nils Debruuk), and Sean Harris (Solomon Lane).


Innocent Blood (1992, John Landis)

At some point during Innocent Blood–I think it was the lengthy sequence with recently resurrected Robert Loggia wrecking havoc at attorney Don Rickles's house–I realized it was hilarious. The movie moves so fast, director Landis never lets up long enough for a laugh. There's one other really good pause spot a few minutes earlier involving Loggia escaping the morgue, but for the most part, too much is going on.

There are multiple achievements to the film. Michael Wolk's script is a strange mix of serious vampire film (undead and lonely Anne Parillaud is frequently shown to loathe her life), police versus Mafia drama (Loggia's a terrifying mob boss), tender romance (between Parillaud and undercover cop Anthony LaPaglia) and spoof of the first two. Landis never spoofs the romance. The great Ira Newborn score aids in transitioning between the genres.

Landis directs the film perfectly; he has these little stylistic devices to control the viewer's experience of scenes. The script's really big–Wolk structures it like a thirties slapstick comedy, with Parillaud and LaPaglia always racing around while the fantastic supporting cast moves things along in their absence.

Parillaud and LaPaglia have the most difficult roles. Parillaud gets to narrate some of the film, but all the depth to the character is subtly addressed. Wolk's script decidedly does not give her easy monologues to define herself. And LaPaglia has to establish himself over a long period of the film. It's three-quarters through before he's done.

Innocent Blood is a phenomenal motion picture.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Landis; written by Michael Wolk; director of photography, Mac Ahlberg; edited by Dale Beldin; music by Iran Newborn; production designer, Richard Sawyer; produced by Lee Rich and Leslie Belzberg; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Anne Parillaud (Marie), Robert Loggia (Sal “The Shark” Macelli), Anthony LaPaglia (Joe Gennaro), David Proval (Lenny), Chazz Palminteri (Tony), Luis Guzmán (Morales), Elaine Kagan (Frannie Bergman), Rocco Sisto (Gilly), Leo Burmester (Dave Flinton), Kim Coates (Ray), Tony Lip (Frank), Angela Bassett (U.S. Attorney Sinclair), Frank Oz (Pathologist), Tony Sirico (Jacko), Marshall Bell (Marsh) and Don Rickles (Emmanuel Bergman).


Green Lantern (2011, Martin Campbell), the extended cut

The saddest thing about Green Lantern has to be the editing. Stuart Baird, amazing action editor of the last twenty or so years, cut together this malarky. It’s not Baird’s fault, exactly, how ugly Lantern plays—cinematographer Dion Beebe’s responsible for the shots not matching in lighting and Campbell composed them. But Baird’s always had a grace about his cutting. None of it is present here.

Or maybe James Newton Howard’s godawful score distracts from it.

The problem is Campbell and not because he can’t somehow make the shoddy CG work (though the fighter jets look okay… not real, but better than the space stuff). He isn’t directing his actors. If Campbell’s not taking the time to try to turn the crappy script into something good, why should anyone bother to see what he does with it….

I’m not talking about Ryan Reynolds. He’s terrible, sure, but there are a lot worse performances here. Blake Lively is atrocious, so is Mark Strong. Well, he’s more laughable than atrocious. Gattlin Griffith, as a young Reynolds, is hilariously bad.

More shocking than Reynolds is Campbell getting a phoned-in performance from Tim Robbins. I’ve never seen Robbins waste his time like he does here. Even Jay O. Sanders is bad, in what should be an easy role.

There’s no way Green Lantern would have been good with this script, but it could have been better. I hate blaming Campbell, who’s done excellent work; he should’ve taken an Alan Smithee on this garbage.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Campbell; screenplay by Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg, based on a story by Berlanti, Green and Guggenheim and a character created by John Broome and Gil Kane; director of photography, Dion Beebe; edited by Stuart Baird; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Grant Major; produced by Berlanti and Donald De Line; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ryan Reynolds (Hal Jordan), Blake Lively (Carol Ferris), Peter Sarsgaard (Hector Hammond), Mark Strong (Sinestro), Angela Bassett (Doctor Waller), Tim Robbins (Robert Hammond), Temuera Morrison (Abin Sur), Jay O. Sanders (Carl Ferris), Taika Waititi (Tom Kalmaku), Geoffrey Rush (Tomar-Re), Michael Clarke Duncan (Kilowog), Jon Tenney (Martin Jordan) and Clancy Brown (Parallax).


City of Hope (1991, John Sayles)

City of Hope is a raw John Sayles John Sayles movie. The camera follows the characters until it bumps into other characters, which is a simple, straightforward method, both a little more honest but also a little more amateurish. It introduces a gimmick into the film, which rarely does anything any good. It isn’t always the bumping characters–the most effective sequence is when, at the same time, separated by cuts, a bunch of characters decide to sell themselves out or not to sell out. But the bumping does pop again and it is noticeable. Maybe it’s a consequence of pan and scanning a 2.35:1 film (City of Hope, as far as I can ascertain, has never had a non-pan and scan video release). The pan and scan does hurt a little, but the gimmick would still be there, wider field of action or not. It’s not bad–films still do it today, good films, but they’re films made after Sayles (much like Sayles makes films after the Altman Nashville standard). It’s a raw artist in progress and it’s a thing sixteen years has made more noticeable. It doesn’t date the film, but City of Hope does have a visible place in Sayles’s body of work.

It’s also his most traditional story–one of the two primary storylines is Italian-Americans and their relationship to work and corruption. Sure, it’s political corruption–but the corrupt mayor is Italian. Vincent Spano’s character is also a very general lead for a Sayles film too–like I said, it’s all very raw. The other primary story, about Joe Morton’s attempt to be a successful and moral politician, is more radical. However, the Spano story, simply because Spano, and Tony Lo Bianco as his father, are so great. Joe Morton’s great too, but Sayles gives Spano a romance with Barbara Williams (who’s also fantastic). Watching certain moments in City of Hope, it’s obvious Sayles spent a lot of time figuring them out. There are some short car ride conversations he does beautifully, but also the scenes with Spano walking Williams home. Those scenes are amazing, pan and scan or not.

Where Sayles lifts the film from the norm is in the third act, when the viewer discovers it’s actually not all about people bumping into each other, or the titular City of Hope, which pops up three times at least, but is actually all about watching people corrupt themselves. There’s a wonderful juxtaposition of one woman telling her husband not to sell himself out, then congratulating him (that one’s from Macbeth, right?), with another not supporting dishonesty, after positioning herself to do so. Except every character in City of Hope, not just those four–with the exception of Williams, who’s a bit of a saint–eventually makes the choice to corrupt or redeem him or herself. Well, not redeem, but not further corrupt.

Besides the aforementioned, Tony Denison is great, so is Angela Bassett. Chris Cooper’s only in it for maybe four minutes, but in that time, it becomes clear his never becoming a leading man is a considerable tragedy for American cinema.

I’m probably less enthused about the film than I should be, but it’s only because I spent the entire time wondering how beautiful it must look in the right aspect ratio.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written, directed and edited by John Sayles; director of photography, Robert Richardson; music by Mason Daring; production designers, Dan Bishop and Dianna Freas; produced by Sarah Green and Maggie Renzi; released by The Samuel Goldwyn Company.

Starring Vincent Spano (Nick), Tony Lo Bianco (Joe), Joe Morton (Wynn), Angela Bassett (Reesha), John Sayles (Carl), Gloria Foster (Jeanette), David Strathairn (Asteroid), Kevin Tighe (O’Brien), Barbara Williams (Angela), Joe Grifasi (Pauly), Louis Zorich (Mayor Baci), Gina Gershon (Laurie), Rose Gregorio (Pina), Bill Raymond (Les), Jace Alexander (Bobby), Todd Graff (Zip), Frankie Faison (Levonne), Tom Wright (Malik), Tony Denison (Rizzo), S.J. Lang (Bauer), Chris Cooper (Riggs), Stephen Mendillo (Yoyo), Josh Mostel (Mad Anthony), Daryl Edwards (Franklin) and Lawrence Tierney (Kerrigan).


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