Episode 120: Mission: Impossible – Fallout

We’re here to discuss one of our most anticipated films of the year, the newest entry in Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible series. This film is the first to serve as a direct sequel story-wise to one before it, and also the first to feature a returning director. I know that we both are huge fans of Christopher McQuarrie’s direction in Rogue Nation and couldn’t have been happier that he was coming back. But with all this hype, expectations were high. Did it deliver? Your mission, listeners, should you choose to accept it… is to stick around and find out what we thought, after we briefly the first five films, of course.

What We’ve Been Up To0:01:28

(Both – Mission: Impossible series)

Mission: Impossible – Fallout  Review – 0:17:27 

The Connecting Point – 1:17:08


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MOVIE REVIEW: Mission: Impossible – Fallout

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT (2018)

2 Hours and 27 Minutes (R)

Villain Solomon Lane tells Ethan Hunt that the end he’s feared is coming and describes it as “the fallout of all [his] good intentions”. That statement could also apply to Mission: Impossible – Fallout and it’s director, the first ever to return for a second go-around in the series, Christopher McQuarrie. With this direct follow-on to the story events in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, McQuarrie’s aim is clear: he is going for a home run of an action flick while attempting to marry the best parts of the series into a cohesive whole. But you know what they say about good intentions…

The impossible mission that Ethan Hunt (the ageless wizard Tom Cruise) and his crew face now is one of the more straight forward in the series. It revolves mostly around retrieving stolen plutonium to prevent terrorists from launching nuclear attacks. This is not a ground-breaking story concept by any means, but McQuarrie structures the plot in such a way that there are still plenty of smaller motivations in play along the journey while always keeping the “ticking clock” in mind. And, of course, we’re dealing with spies here so this wouldn’t be Mission: Impossible without a double-cross (or two, or three, or… you get the point). One of the biggest strengths of the film is the way in which the story borrows elements from multiple films in the series and weaves them together successfully without making the result feel recycled. There is a through-line of a very personal nature reminiscent of Mission: Impossible III, there is the aforementioned “save the entire world from destruction” big stakes, and there are some wonderfully developed team dynamics that get focused on as well. There are also quite a few callbacks to specific scenes from past movies. Though it remains interesting throughout, the one big knock on the story is how telegraphed it is. If you’ve seen a trailer for the film, you already know how this is going to go and there aren’t many surprises in store for you. Even if you managed to stay trailer free, a very early reveal robs the film of what could have been much more impactful events later on. There are also some workings of the plot that create extremely high senses of danger and emotion in the audience only to later expose that there was no reason to have those emotions in the first place.

Where McQuarrie’s good intentions do manifest into something utterly brilliant is every single one of the film’s action sequences. The film moves fast from one terrific adrenaline-pumping set piece to the next in the best of ways. Whether it’s the early on HALO jump (my personal favorite that had me holding my breath) or the hand-to-hand combat inside of a club bathroom or a motorcycle chase in heavy traffic or the well-documented insanity of Tom Cruise actually climbing onto a helicopter mid-air and then piloting it in a dogfight, the audience is left breathless and physically reeling from the practical effects and stunt work on display. Not to go unmentioned, because it’s a major contributor to these pieces, is the wonderful sound design and use of the score. At times symphonic, at others completely absent, and often just incredibly powerful pops of a bullet or punches of a fist or revs of an engine, the sound in this film greatly enhances the overall experience.

Another aspect of the series that is less frequently mentioned is its humor, and Fallout may just be the best at this. Some of the most hilarious lines come from Hunt’s team of Benji (Simon Pegg), Luther (Ving Rhames), and Director Hundley (Alec Baldwin). But the film’s most interesting relationship, between Agent Walker (Henry Cavill) and Hunt, provides plenty of laughs also, as the two spies spend the majority of their time on screen together in a battle of who has the most testosterone. The results frequently evoke a light-hearted chuckle at just the right moment to provide a brief respite from the film’s intensely driven plot. Last but not least, fan favorite British spy Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) returns and despite seeming less important while being in more scenes, manages to ground the team in a few key emotional moments that would otherwise not have been possible.

VERDICT

Mission: Impossible – Fallout jumped out of the gate to critic claims of being the next action masterpiece. While it does excel in this area, and is certainly one of the decade’s best, technical achievement is not the only aspect of a great film. Fallout’s story is good, but not without hiccups. It’s unfortunate telegraphing of surprises holds it back from being truly special, though it has some tender emotional moments that help offset that small critique. Regardless, the film is a 2.5-hour high octane ride with a master of propulsive action and this generation’s biggest star, resulting in yet another fantastic entry into possibly the best spy film series of all-time. Don’t walk, run like Tom Cruise to the nearest theater and experience this summer’s best blockbuster in the loudest theater with the biggest screen you can.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 107: Avengers Infinity War

After 10 years and 18 films, Marvel’s ambitious, unique interconnected world of superhero films comes to this, a team-up movie the likes of which we have never seen before. Historic in its scope and in its box office success, Avengers: Infinity War is a special blockbuster and one that provides plenty to discuss. We’ve been chomping at the bit to talk about this one, its place in the MCU, and where Marvel goes from here.

Avengers: Infinity War Review – 0:02:33

The Connecting Point – 01:27:30


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MOVIE REVIEW: Avengers: Infinity War

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)

2 Hours and 29 Minutes (PG-13)

Marvel and The Russo Brothers had a very daunting task before them. Paying off the culmination of a decade of build-up and backstory, stretching over 18 films, is a challenge unlike any studio or director in Hollywood had ever faced. And to accomplish this feat, they worked with what has to be the largest cast of known stars ever assembled for a movie. The ambition of Marvel and its commitment to the cinematic universe it pioneered is worthy of praise and respect.

If there’s one thing I was looking for in Avengers: Infinity War, it was raised stakes. Much like the comic books these films are based on (in which characters rarely die and cities are destroyed without much afterthought), Marvel films have not fully dealt with loss in a way that seems realistic. Right from the start of Infinity War, though, Marvel makes it very clear that has changed. The potential consequences of a Thanos (Josh Brolin) victory are evident and the film progresses with an emotional weight and sense of urgency that it could not have attained if the studio followed its same old formula. This also creates much more investment in characters and the worlds they inhabit, and thus pays off quite a few very moving scenes in a much bigger way. If you haven’t cried in a Marvel movie before, you’re not alone, but this may be your first. I had genuine chills a few different times. But don’t worry, that trademark Marvel humor and witty one-liners are still there and won’t have you depressed for too long at a time.

Another area that Marvel outdoes previous films in their own franchise is with Thanos himself. Make no mistake, this is his film and his story. He is a fully developed villain with more screen time than any before him, and it helps to create a character with whom the audience can both despise and yet struggle with feelings of empathy for. Brolin’s talent is very obvious in this performance despite the incredible looking CGI that encompasses him. His Thanos is not just some loud, angry, destructive villain. He is intelligent and calculating. He is nuanced. He is cold, yes, but when he gives his reasons for what he wants to do with the Infinity Stones and why, in a very warped way it makes some sense. His presence as the foil to the Avengers and Guardians gives this film something unique and memorable.

With a cast this large it is inevitable that not everyone’s favorite will have the responsibility or amount of action they hope for. The Russo’s do an admirable job of balancing these heroes, however, and somehow left me feeling satisfied. Sure, a little more backstory or deeper character moments for them all would be nice, but it’s also unrealistic to expect in a single film of this length. By managing to give everyone at least one small moment in the sun, the Russo’s succeed where I believe many would have failed. Another result of keeping most character development small is that the film moves fast, pausing a few times for majorly impactful storyline beats, but mostly cutting between different groups of heroes working to accomplish different tasks. By keeping the heroes in smaller groups, we get to feel more focused when we’re with them, and enjoy the new forms of dialogue that emerge between characters who previously had not interacted.

The action in Avengers: Infinity War is, as expected, fantastic. Seeing heroes fight together with new gear and weapons, or teaming up in ways never experienced by movie goers before, was a huge treat. In one major battle that involves a host of heroes and countless alien attackers, the Silvestri score and rising stakes create a feeling similar to that in the Battle of the Pelennor Field from The Return of the King. While Avengers: Infinity War never quite reaches that level of epic, it comes much closer than many (myself included) ever thought possible.

VERDICT

If you’re thinking that this review is a but vague, please know that is by design. Fans have waited 10 years for this and going in with as little information possible is going to result in the best viewing experience. Avengers: Infinity War isn’t entirely unpredictable, but it’s got some surprises too. The historic puzzle that the Russo Brothers have put together is nothing short of amazing and will lend itself to multiple viewings. Perhaps that’s the highest praise possible for a film of this kind, that after it finished I immediately would have sat through those 2.5+ hours again. To sum it all up, Avengers: Infinity War lived up to the hype by being both entertaining and emotional. Well done, Marvel. Well done.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 098: Black Panther

Black Panther has arrived and Marvel’s latest film is shattering box office records and receiving plenty of praise in its first weekend. We’re joined by Emmanuel Noisette of Eman’s Movie Reviews to discuss the cultural importance and quality of entertainment that Ryan Coogler’s film brings.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:02:12

(Aaron – Hamilton: An American Musical)

Black Panther Review – 0:09:21

The Connecting Point – 1:30:15


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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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MOVIE REVIEW: Black Panther

BLACK PANTHER (2018)

GOING IN

This is the most excited I’ve been for a Marvel film in several years. Black Panther looks to be set in a completely unique world that feels like an African Asgard. The importance of this superhero film for African Americans is significant, too, and cannot be dismissed. With a cast of incredible actors of color plus two of my favorite Tolkien-universe stars, and director Ryan Coogler whose never made anything less than an excellent film, expectations are high that this will be a comic book movie to remember. Plus, his superhero persona is a cat. I mean, c’mon… who doesn’t love cats?

2 Hours and 14 Minutes Later.


COMING OUT

There’s nothing quite like that feeling when a highly hyped movie delivers the goods. It’s euphoric and can lead to long bouts of smiling the rest of the day. When that film is in a genre that has largely become stagnant and routine, a diamond emerging from the rough is an even bigger deal, and cause for great celebration. Those who have followed Ryan Coogler’s brief career thus far (Fruitvale Station, Creed) knew the young director had the chops to pull of a great Black Panther movie, and boy did he ever.

Early in the film, T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) tells him “Just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.” This little nugget of wisdom feels like foreshadowing because that is exactly what Coogler and this fantastic cast have done with Black Panther. Marvel movies make money and are highly enjoyable, so the formula thus far has worked just fine. But Coogler, who also co-wrote the film, has definitely elevated that formula and created something with so much more depth than the majority of comic book films. Fans are constantly clamoring for these films to be more than just jokes and great action, and to have some genuine stakes. Because of the more personal level of the conflict in Black Panther it has those necessary stakes, both for T’Challa as a king and the nation of Wakanda. Coogler’s film also tackles the reality of African American history while comparing that to an incredibly advanced civilization free from colonization and bondage. The subtle but strong way the story handles all of these topics is what makes it so special.

Well, that and the acting. Black Panther features a standout cast that just rocks it in almost every role. Andy Serkis steps out of the motion capture suit to play villain Ulysses Klaue and promptly steals every scene he is in. It’s a performance that is dripping with that exaggerated comic book style and I ate up every second he was on screen. Pairing with him in the villain role is Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger, who unsurprisingly is phenomenal. Goodness gracious can this guy act! I’ll be blunt – these two together are the best Marvel villains we’ve seen. In Killmonger, for once Marvel has given us a villain worth caring about, and the difference in personality and motivation between he and Klaue makes for superb entertainment. Other standouts are Danai Gurira as Okoye, as T’Challa’s Wakandan General and absolute bad-ass warrior. Her performance is fierce and she epitomizes the strength of Wakandan women who may live under a patriarchy, but are every bit as equal and valued as the men. I could go on and on, but the aforementioned Letitia Wright also was excellent. As T’Challa’s sister, she provides an interesting picture of someone who has grown up with the comfort and technology of a secret tribal country yet still has the sensibilities of a wide-eyed teenager. She gives the film plenty of its humor and is the primary vessel for us to learn about and fall in love with Wakandan vibranium tech (which is AWESOME).

The setting of Wakanda is a beautiful, at times breathtaking, fascinating sort of African Asgard. The filmmakers took great care to make each tribe look and feel unique. Everything about this world felt so vibrant and traditional, from the rituals to the manner of conversation. Much of the score features tribal music with beating drums that fit perfectly, but at times it also switches up to modern musical styles. This is best shown in one particular fight scene where the style of music alternated back and forth based on which character was shown in battle.

Black Panther is truly great, but it isn’t quite perfect. My two biggest complaints about the film are its CGI and a few of the narrative choices made during the climax that felt like shortcuts. The climax also felt a little long to me, but that’s a minor quibble. The CGI being wonky was a major problem in a genre that showcases its heroes using their abilities. Many times it was so bad that it took me out of the moment and lessened the intensity of the action sequence taking place. There are definitely great moments, many relating to the Panther’s kinetic reflecting suit, but overall it was still a letdown from a studio that should be acing that element.

VERDICT

Black Panther may not be king of the MCU, but it certainly is a worthy challenger for that mantle. The film’s deep themes and focus on developing characters makes it linger in your thoughts even after the high has passed. This is the first Marvel film in a long time that I immediately purchased tickets to see again. There are so many great lessons and they’re all contained in a beautifully unique wrapper unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Representation matters and Black Panther is certainly an important step forward in film, but it’s also just a damn good comic book movie and reminder of what the genre can be at its height. Wakanda Forever.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.